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Basketball: Leopards out of National Cup
4:44pm Wednesday 11th December 2013 in Sport
ESSEX Leopards’ National Cup dreams were ended on Sunday as they suffered a 79-75 semi-final defeat against the Reading Rockets.
Howard Crawford led the way with 31 points for the Big Cats.
But his American compatriot Kris Clark was the only other player in double figures.
And that frustrated Leopards’ player coach Rob Youngblood.
“It was disappointing that we really didn’t play well but came so close to winning” said Youngblood.
“We would’ve loved to have made the final but unfortunately we didn’t do enough to make that happen.”
A good start from Crawford saw him score 12 points as Leopards took a 14-8 lead in the first three minutes before a 6-0 run saw Rockets reduce the lead to two.
Courtney Van Beest broke the tear, but Liam Carpenter then scored a three pointer to give Reading a 17-16 lead at the first break, A pair of Lawrence Brown baskets off Crawford assists kept Leopards within a point in the early stages of the second period, and seven straight points from Youngblood together with a basket from captain Carl Josey saw them tie the score at 35 with two and a half first half minutes remaining.
But a time-out from Rockets’ coach Manuel Pena-Garces proved crucial as Josh Wilcher and Lewis Champion both hit three pointers for the visitors as they finished the half on a 12-3 run to lead 47-39 at half-time.
Champion hit another pair of three-pointers to take that lead out to 15 points in the opening three minutes of the second half before Crawford broke the run, and a three pointer from Tom Martin made it a seven point game at the five minute mark.
Crawford and Clark kept the hosts in touch, and it was the former who hit one of two free-throws and a jump shot to cut the deficit to 65-55 at the final break.
Saw Iwueke converted one of two foul shots to open the fourth period but when Christian Garcia Laya scored a lay-up with 5:42 on the clock and Rockets up by 12 the game looked beyond Leopards.
Inevitably it was Crawford who sparked the comeback with a free-throw before five straight Ish Fontaine points followed by a Josey three pointer made it a three point game and Crawford sunk a pair of foul shots to complete the 11-0 run and make it a one point game with 2:17 remaining.
But, that was as close as the Big Cats got as despite a massive block from Youngblood with 67 seconds on the clock, the Rockets wrapped up a place in the final from the foul line.