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Leopards strengthen title bid

10:29 17 February 2014

Andre Lockhart looks to attack for Leopards against Tees Valley (pic: Paul Phillips)

Andre Lockhart looks to attack for Leopards against Tees Valley (pic: Paul Phillips)

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Weekend double delights coach Youngblood

Leopards strengthened their EBL Division One title challenge with a pair of victories over the weekend.

A dominant first half paved the way for an 89-72 win at Worthing Thunder on Saturday before a big crowd at Southend saw them defeat Tees Valley Mohawks 93-81.

At Worthing, Robert Youngblood’s side never looked back after a 12-0 run to start the game, and to complete a perfect night for the Big Cats the three sides above them in the table all lost.

Howard Crawford led five Leopards in double figures with 22 points and eight rebounds in just 25 minutes of action.

Kris Clark had seven boards, five assists and four steals to go with his 15 points, while Andre Lockhart marked his debut with 12 points before fouling out early in the fourth period.

Carl Josey and Courtney Van Beest each had 11 points, adding six and seven rebounds respectively, while Shaun Durant battled foul trouble all night but finished with 10 boards to go with his four points.

It took over two minutes to break the deadlock, but when Josey drained a three to open the scoring it started a 12-point tear that put Leopards in the driving seat for the rest of the game.

Despite being forced to sit Durant down after he was called for two fouls in the first 72 seconds, Crawford and Clark both added to the lead before Lockhart scored from downtown and Josey wrapped up the run with a drive to the basket.

Rory Spencer finally got the hosts on the scoreboard with four and a half minutes gone before splitting a pair of free-throws, but that was the final time in the game that Leopards’ lead dipped into single figures, and they went into the first break with a 22-9 lead.

That grew to 41-20 at half-time, and although the hosts trimmed it to 63-50, Youngblood was able to run his bench for much of the second half as his side wrapped up their 11th league win of the campaign.

Leopards made it a winning weekend as six players finished in double figures the following day, and Youngblood was delighted with his side’s fourth straight win.

He said: “We’re moving the ball much better, and Andre [Lockhart] had made a real difference. We had six players in double figures, and Shaun [Durant] and Howard [Crawford] work really well together.

“I was also really pleased with the energy Courtney [Van Beest] gave us off the bench. The league title is still there for the taking, we just have to keep playing good team ‘ball.”

Crawford led the Big Cats for the third successive game and the fifth time in six, finishing with a 22-point, 12-rebound double-double.

Durant also recorded a double-double, hitting 18 points and pulling down as many boards.

Clark had seven assists and five steals to go with his 18 points, with Lockhart adding 12 points, while Josey and Van Beest finished with 10 points apiece, the latter pulling down nine boards as the hosts out-rebounded Mohawks 49-31.

The Middlesbrough side started well, leading by as many as seven and going into the first break 21-18 ahead.

But Leopards took control in the second period, holding the visitors scoreless for four minutes to take a 26-25 lead at the five-minute mark and then closing out the half on a 16-5 run.

The lead ballooned to 18 at the mid-stage of the third period before Leopards went into the final break 73-55 ahead.

The Big Cats lead grew to 22 early in the fourth period, and although Mohawks fought back to make it an eight-point game heading into the final two minutes, some good defence saw Leopards wrap the win up.

In a change of fixture, Leopards travel to strugglers Medway Park Crusaders on Saturday before returning to Brentwood on Sunday March 2 to face Manchester Magic, 4pm.

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