Crunch time for Leopards
PUBLISHED: 13:00 06 March 2014
Big Cats face must-win match
Leopards face a must-win game as they travel to EBL Division One leaders Hemel Storm on Saturday.
The Big Cats bounced back from Saturday’s 94-77 loss at Reading Rockets to hammer Manchester Magic 81-57 on Sunday, but cannot afford any slip-ups in their remaining seven games if they are to stand any chance of winning the title.
Hemel sit top of the league with a 16-5 record, with Rockets (14-3) second and Leopards (14-5) third.
The sides have already met twice this season with Leopards running out winners on both occasions.
A strong second half saw the Big Cats win a National Cup third round tie at the Brentwood Centre while Leopards blew the visitors away in the third quarter of the league game at Southend.
Leopards’ home game against Worthing Thunder on Sunday March 16 will now be played at the Brentwood Centre, 4pm.
The Big Cats failed to build on a good start at Reading on Saturday as Rockets became clear favourites to win the Division One title.
Kris Clark opened the scoring and a three-point play from Howard Crawford put Leopards 11-2 ahead after just three minutes, but that was as good as it got for the Big Cats.
An Andre Lockhart trey made it a seven-point game with six minutes gone, but Reading closed out the period with a 9-4 run to cut Leopards’ lead to 25-23 at the first break.
Leopards scored just two points in the first four minutes of the second period as Reading opened a 30-27 lead, and it was Crawford and Lockhart who kept the visitors in touch before Josh Wilsher drained a three to send the hosts into the locker room with a 50-41 half-time lead.
A Clark trey off Shaun Durant’s assist saw that lead cut to six early in the third period, but that was as close as Leopards got in the quarter as Reading went into the final break 71-64 ahead.
Wilcher hit another three to open the fourth period and the lead grew to 12 following a bizarre technical foul on coach Robert Youngblood, and they never got the margin inside single figures again.
Crawford finished with a massive 30 points and eight rebounds with Lockhart adding 15 and Clark 11.
Leopards again started well the following day, Durant opening the scoring as they again led 11-2 after five minutes and Crawford’s dunk saw the lead grow to 14-2.
Magic replied with an 8-4 run to cut the lead to 18-10 at the first break, and a pair of Durant scores kept Leopards ahead 22-15 after three second period minutes.
A Tom Ward trey saw Magic move within three points, but Lockhart scored seven points to keep the Big Cats on top, and five points from Lawrence Brown helped Leopards go into the locker room with a 36-28 half-time lead.
A pair of Crawford baskets saw the lead go into double figures and the American scored 12 of his side’s 15 third-period points as Magic remained in touch before a single Ronnie Baker free-throw sent the hosts into the final break 51-47 ahead.
Durant and Clark scored Leopards’ first two fourth period baskets, but Magic were within three points with seven minutes left before the Big Cats went on the game-clinching run.
Clark started the tear with a trey off Lockhart’s assist and the visitors were held scoreless for five minutes as Youngblood’s team rattled off 14 straight points, capped by a Crawford dunk to put his side 69-52 ahead.
The lead never dipped into single figures again, and the Big Cats wrapped the game with a 10-1 run as Youngblood ran his bench down the stretch.
Crawford again led the scoring with 24 points, adding seven rebounds, as Lockhart added 15 and Clark 14, while Durant finished with an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double.
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