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Fontaine boosts Leopards' title push
4:17pm Wednesday 13th March 2013 in Local Sport
LEOPARDS continued their push for the runners-up spot in EBL Division One with an 81-69 victory against Leeds Carnegie on Sunday.
On a day that the reigning champions saw their crown taken by Reading Rockets, Robert Youngblood’s team produced an excellent performance in the battle between the National Trophy and Cup holders.
A stunning third period which saw Ish Fontaine pour in three three-pointers proved the difference between Leopards and second placed Carnegie as they outscored the visitors 23-11.
Simon Cummings led the Leopards’ scoring for a fourth straight game with 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds, while Greg Hernandez had a massive 21 point, 17 rebound double-double.
On his first start for the Big Cats, Fontaine finished with five three-pointers on the way to 19 points, while Carl Josey added nine points and four assists.
It was a depleted Leopards’ team, with captain Taner Adu seemingly out for the rest of the season with the Achilles injury suffered in the Trophy final, Rowell Graham still struggling with an ankle injury and Dan Dunscombe ill, but the Big Cats dug deep for their seventh win in nine games.
Hernandez opened the scoring with an and-one, but Robert Marsden replied at the other with a trey to set the tone for the first half.
Fontaine gave Leopards their biggest lead of the first period with a three to put them 12-7 up after three minutes, but Leeds replied with an 11-4 tear capped by Bryan Modeski’s shot before Cummings provided the assist for Hernandez to tie the score at 16 going into the first break.
Dave Ajumobi opened the second period with a three point play for the visitors, and Leopards trailed by a many as four in the opening thee minutes of the quarter before Josey tied things after grabbing an Hernandez miss.
Neither side were able to score more than two successive baskets, but it looked like Carnegie would take a one point lead into the locker room following Armand Anebo’s basket with 12 seconds on the clock but Cummings sent the Big Cats into half-time on a high as he beat the buzzer with a three-pointer to give them a 40-38 lead.
Youngblood opened the scoring with a pair at the free-throw line, and the Leopards player-coach made it a six point with 7:21 on the clock with a rare three-pointer.
But it was Fontaine who blew the game open, hitting three of four three-pointers in a two minute spell to give Leopards a double-digit lead, and the lead peaked at 15 when Josey hit a trey as Leopards went into the final break with a 63-49 lead.
Marsden, who led Leeds with 19 points but needed 22 shots, opened the final period scoring, but the Leopards’ lead never dipped into single figures and when an Hernandez and-one made it 73-57 with five minutes remaining it became clear that Leeds’ only hope was to lose by less than six and clinch the head-to-head decider.
But scores from Fontaine and Cummings ended that hope as Leopards wrapped up the win and they are now joint fifth as they head into the final month of the regular season.
The Big Cats face a trip across London on Sunday to face Westminster Warriors in what looks likely to be a key game for Youngblood’s team.
After being reprieved from relegation last season, the Warriors who are coached by former Leopards’ guard Matt Collins, have had a much better season and are chasing a play-off spot and are currently tenth with an 8-11 record.
The sides met at the Brentwood Centre in December, with Hernandez and Cummings combining for 51 points in a narrow 79-74 victory.