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Essex Leopards slay Giants, silence Thunder

PUBLISHED: 11:30 09 January 2017

Mike Martin attacks the hoop for Essex Leopards

Mike Martin attacks the hoop for Essex Leopards

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Brilliant weekend at Brentwood for Big Cats

Darrell Bethune attacks the hoop for Essex Leopards against Manchester Giants Darrell Bethune attacks the hoop for Essex Leopards against Manchester Giants

Essex Leopards sensationally knocked Manchester Giants out of the BBL Trophy on Friday, before defeating Worthing Thunder on Sunday to maintain their play-off push.

Their 86-84 win over the Giants at the Brentwood Centre was the first in the BBL Trophy for the new Big Cats and they became only the fourth EBL side in the competition’s 29-year history to beat a side from Britain’s top flight.

Steve Ogunjumi’s team will now host Plymouth Raiders in the quarter-finals, with the game provisionally arranged for Sunday January 22 at the Brentwood Centre.

Darrell Bethune led the home side with five three pointers in his 32-point haul, adding five rebounds and three assists for the Big Cats in his best performance since signing in early November.

AJ Roberts attacks the basket for Essex Leopards against Worthing Thunder AJ Roberts attacks the basket for Essex Leopards against Worthing Thunder

But it was veteran Mike Martin who stole the show as he played through the pain barrier to lead his side to victory.

The former England international looked to be out of the game when he was carried off early in the second half with a knee injury, but as his side looked to have lost the momentum midway through the fourth period he dosed himself up with pain killers, ripped off the strapping and limped back onto the court to steady the ship and help secure a famous win – finishing with 20 points and seven boards.

American guard AJ Roberts continued his good run of form with 16 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, while Dougie Bennett added 10 points and three rebounds.

After an even start, a 17-0 run wrapped around the first break put Leopards in charge and they went into the locker room with a 49-38 lead.

But Giants steadily chipped away at the advantage following Martin’s injury and closed the gap to 65-62 at the final break, before taking the lead early in the fourth period.

Bethune again found the basket from long range to put Leopards up by one and it was nip and tuck down the stretch as the hosts went into the final minute trailing 84-82.

It was Bethune who hit the go-ahead trey, converting off Roberts’ assist with 44 seconds on the clock before grabbing the rebound from Creppy’s miss 18 seconds later.

With six seconds remaining Bethune was harshly adjudged to have fouled Callum Jones, giving him the chance the put his side back ahead.

But the pressure showed on the English guard as he rimmed both shots, leaving Perry Lawson to grab the rebound.

Lawson was fouled, but he too missed both free-throws only for Martin to grab the rebound and pass to Roberts, who was predictably fouled.

The American guard missed the first shot before sinking the second and the Big Cats played some good defence in the remaining 2.5 seconds to seal a famous win.

Sunday’s 86-71 win against Thunder proved to be more straightforward, with the Big Cats never trailing after Shaq Lewis’ basket sent them into the first break with a 14-13 lead.

A pair of Bethune treys helped that lead grow to 41-33 at half-time and Tosin Oyelese extended that lead to 63-52 at the final break.

Bethune hit another triple to open the fourth period and an 11-4 run midway through the quarter wrapped things up, allowing Ogunjimi to give his younger players some court time down the stretch.

Martin finished with a game-high 26 points, six assists and as many rebounds, while Bethune adding 24 points and seven boards.

Roberts had nine rebounds and seven assists to go with his 17 points.

Thunder had arrived on the back of a win against Hemel Storm thanks to 40 points from Division One’s leading scorer Lyonell Gaines, but he was held to a season-low 19 points on nine-from-23 shooting by Leopards.

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