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Leopards are league champions

PUBLISHED: 09:36 30 March 2015

Essex Leopards celebrate after clinching the league title at the Brentwood Centre (pic: Essex Leopards)

Essex Leopards celebrate after clinching the league title at the Brentwood Centre (pic: Essex Leopards)

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Big Cats celebrate at Brentwood

Leopards became National Basketball League champions for the second time in four years as they defeated Team Northumbria 84-72 last night.

In front of a sold-out Brentwood Centre crowd, te Robert Youngblood’s team beat the only side who could deny them the title to spark jubilant scenes on the court at the end.

“œIt’™s an amazing achievement,” said general manager Dave Ryan. “It’™s not just the players and coaches, though they’™ve been amazing. A year ago we sat everyone down in a room and discussed whether we could continue this club.

“But everyoneâ’s stepped up and winning the league again is a fantasitc achievement. We had fans lugging chairs around to pack more people into the Brentwood Centre, and that was just a snap-shot of the amount of work that’s gone into winning this.

“œWhen we won the treble in 2012 we did it by bringing in two of the best Americans this league has seen for a long time, but this season we did it with a real team effort and I think that showed on Sunday.

“We couldn’™t have won this without the help of Brentwood Leisure Trust or the support of our fans. It’™s fitting, and brilliant, that we won it at the Brentwood Centre.”€

In a game that Big Cats were ahead in for all bar 90 seconds, captain Albert Margai led from the front with 22 points, six assists and five rebounds while American forward Byron Richards had his best game of the season with a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Brentwood-boy Will Ashby shrugged off foul trouble to finish with 15 points, four assists and three rebounds, while Dave Ajumobi added six boards to his nine points.

Leopards struggled with foul trouble all game, but took charge in the final five minutes to outscore the north east side 19-8.

Six straight Richards point saw the Big Cats’ lead increase from five to 73-64 with three minutes remaining, and Ajumobi made it a 10-point game as he converted a three-point play before sinking a jump shot with 1:50 on the clock.

Courtney Van Beest kept the margin in double figures off a Margai assist before the Leopards captain wrapped up the win with a pair of free-throws and a jump shot before the home side played out the final minute and started the celebrations.

The title celebrations had been set up by a strong second-half performance at Leicester Warriors on Saturday as Leopards came from behind to win 77-58.

The Big Cats trailed throughout the first half, going into the first break 20-15 down before the home side stretched their lead to 39-33 at half-time.

But the introduction of Tosin Oyelese at half-time sparked a strong defensive performance after the break, with Ashby coming up with three key steals and the Big Cats outscored the home side 21-10 in the third period and 23-9 in the fourth to seal the win.

Ajumobi led the way with 20 points, with Ashby, Richards and Van Beest all adding 10 as the Big Cats collected their 17th league win on the campaign.

Youngblood’™s side wrap up their league campaign with a trip to Manchester on Saturday before hosting a home play-off quarter-final at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday April 12, tip-off 4pm.


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