Leopards are the champs

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champs 2015ESSEX Leopards became National Basketball League champions for the second time in four years on Sunday as they defeated Team Northumbria 84-72.

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

“It’s an amazing achievement”€ said general manager Dave Ryan. “€œIt’€™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.

“€œBut everyone’s stepped up, and winning the league again is a fantastic 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.

“€œWe 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, ten 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 ten 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 afternoon 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 ten 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.

Team

Wins

Losses

For

Against

Pts Diff.

Team

Leopards

18

5

1707

1568

139

36

Derby Trailblazers

16

7

1870

1743

127

32

Kent Crusaders

16

7

1809

1682

127

32

Manchester Magic

15

7

1745

1579

166

30

Reading Rockets

15

8

1807

1667

140

30

Team Northumbria

14

7

1707

1649

58

28

Worthing Thunder

10

13

1933

1983

-50

20

Bradford Dragons

10

14

1931

1911

20

20

Leicester Warriors

9

14

1752

1813

-61

18

Tees Valley Mohawks

8

14

1775

1854

-79

16

Hemel Storm

8

15

1817

1909

-92

16

Newham (NASSA) Neptunes

5

18

1701

1929

-228

10

Westminster Warriors

4

19

1518

1785

-267

8

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