Dave Ryan reports…
Levett Essex Leopards made it four wins on the bounce as they came from 15 points down in the first half to beat Westminster Warriors 75-73.
For the third successive time at Brentwood, the game went down to the final seconds before the Big Cats came out on top.
The result keeps Thomas Baker’s team in the hunt for promotion, with their next home game seeing leaders Nottingham Hoods visit Brentwood on Saturday January 20 (7pm).
Will Ashby led the way for the hosts, hitting three treys in a 20 point, four rebound, three assist performance, while fellow Brentwood boy Dougie Bennett added 18 points and four assists.
Shaq Lewis again provided the spark off the bench with ten points and six boards, while Jamie Hayes added four points to a ten rebound performance.
For the visitors, player-coach Jon Johnson again redoubled the Big Cats with a 24 point, 12 rebound double-double – though he took 17 shots and lived at the free-throw line – while former Leopards Justin Hitchman and Lawrence Brown added 13 points apiece, Hitchman also pulling down ten boards.
Brown opened the scoring for the visitors, and Leopards struggled with Warriors’ size in the opening stages as the seven footer caused them problems, allowing another former Big Cat Tosin Oyelese to hit seven straight points.
Warriors led throughout the opening period, and despite Ashby and Jerrell Layne hitting treys, the Big Cats trailed 27-14 at the first break.
Hayes opened the second period scoring, but back-to-back triples from Johnson saw Warriors’ lead grow to 33-18.
This finally sparked the hosts into life, with Lewis converting a lay-up before Ashby scored seven straight points capped by a trey to cut the deficit to six.
Warriors replied with six unanswered points before captain Bennett caught fire, landing two triples as he hit ten points in a 13-2 run to send his side into the locker room only trailing 41-38.
Bennett continued that run with the opening score of the second half before Ashby gave Leopards their first lead of the game, and Caleb Taberner completed the 19-2 run to put the Big Cats 45-41 ahead three minutes into the period.
Warriors grabbed the lead back with an 8-2 run and the rest of the third period was nip and tuck before treys from Korey Callum and Jose Morais sent Leopards into the final break with a 59-54 lead.
That lead quickly evaporated as Warriors scored six straight points to open the fourth period, before Lewis, Bennett and Ashby helped Leopards’ reply with a 6-0 run of their own.
A Johnson triple saw Leopards’ lead cut to 66-65 at the five minute mark but scores from Lewis and Ashby saw them lead by four heading into the final three minutes.
A steal and lay-up from Ashby extended that advantage before Hayes hit a pair at the line to make it a five point game with a minute remaining.
Lewis fouled out to send Hitchman to the line where he converted both shots before Johnson split a pair at the charity stripe to cut Leopards’ lead to two 32 seconds on the clock.
Johnson had a shot to tie the game after grabbing the rebound from his missed free-throw, but some good defence kept Leopards ahead and Hayes’ pass found an unmarked Bennett who was able to run the clock down and seal the win.
The Big Cats travel to Derbyshire Arrows on Sunday where they will face a side sitting ninth in the table with four wins from nine games.
The teams were regular opponents during Leopards’ early days in Division One, but haven’t met since Arrows were relegated in 2009/10.