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Leopards play-off hopes shattered

PUBLISHED: 12:12 28 April 2014 | UPDATED: 12:12 28 April 2014

Kris Clark attacks for Leopards against Leeds (pic: Paul Phillips)

Kris Clark attacks for Leopards against Leeds (pic: Paul Phillips)

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Understrength Big Cats beaten in semi-final

Howard Crawford shoots for Leopards (pic: Paul Phillips)Howard Crawford shoots for Leopards (pic: Paul Phillips)

Leopards’ dreams of a second Division One play-off title in three years came to an end at the semi-final stage as they went down 72-62 against Leeds Carnegie on Saturday.

A depleted Big Cats were missing suspended player-coach Robert Youngblood and captain Carl Josey, whose father died on Wednesday, and never recovered from a poor third period, allowing Leeds to progress to Sunday’s final where they narrowly defeated Division One champions Reading Rockets.

Leopards clearly missed the spark that Courtney Van Beest brings off the bench as he started in place of Josey, and they could clearly have done with some court time from Youngblood as their big men suffered with foul trouble.

Howard Crawford led the Big Cats with 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists, with Andre Lockhart and Kris Clark each finishing with 14 points and Clark adding four boards and as many assists despite also getting into foul trouble.

“It was disappointing” said general manager Dave Ryan. “Obviously we missed Carl, and our thoughts are with him and his family, because he is an important part of the team.

“Going into a vital game like this without a key player was a massive disadvantage and not having Robert coaching or available to play made a difference, as well.

“But it’s been a successful season, finishing runners-up in the league and reaching two semi-finals is a real achievement.

“People seem to think that the level of success that we’ve achieved over the last four years comes easily, but it doesn’t. We have to scrape for every penny, if we had the kind of resources Leeds have, I’d expect at least two trophies each year.

“But we’ll have a bit of a rest, regroup and look to do even better next year.”

Crawford opened the scoring and provided Leopards’ first five points and they led for most of the period despite being forced to sit Shaun Durant down on two fouls.

Lawrence Brown put his side three points up with two minutes of the period left and the seven footer sent the Big Cats into the first break 19-18 ahead.

Van Beest doubled the lead from the foul line to open the second period, but the whole quarter was played within a four-point range before a Crawford dunk gave Leopards a 35-34 half-time lead.

The damage was done in the third period as Leopards were out-scored 21-9, with a 7-0 run giving Carnegie a lead they would never relinquish.

Former Leopards Rowell Graham capped an 11-2 run to close out the quarter with a 55-44 lead.

A pair of Lockhart free-throws pulled the Big Cats within six with 5:37 on the clock and Durant made it a five-point game with as many minutes remaining, but that was as good as it got as Leopards’ season ended in disappointment.

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