SHAUN Durant made a winning start to his Essex Leopards’ career as his 15 point, ten rebound double-double helped them to a 72-61 victory at Westminster Warriors.
Durant came off the bench after eight minutes and scored his first points in a Leopards’ vest at the foul line to open the second period.
He also scored a pair of key free-throws down the stretch when Warriors made a late run.
The 6ft 8ins centre joined the Big Cats after several spells as a starter in the British Basketball League and looks set to form a formidable partnership with Howard Crawford.
The 32-year-old Londoner had a four-year college career in the United States with California’s Lindsey Wilson College, Kaskaskia Junior College and Lipscomb University.
He also played in Spain, Switzerland and France and spent time in the BBL Worcester Wolves, Leicester Riders and Worthing thunder.
But he has now opted to join Leopards and made a fine impression on his debut.
The win at Westminster saw the Big Cats coached by Ronnie Baker in the absence of suspended coach Robert Youngblood and assistant Roger Malpass.
Crawford, who had a quiet night offensively with seven points and suffered with foul trouble all game, opened the scoring but Laken Popoola replied with a three pointer and there was little to choose between the sides as the Leopards went into the first break with a 13-12 lead after Carl Josey drained a three.
Popoola scored a three pointer to open the second period and Baker called a time-out with his side leading 28-24 with 5:26 on the clock.
The break worked as Josey’s assist to Durant put the visitors up by ten and they controlled the rest of the half to lead 40-26 going into the locker room.
With Kris Clark also hitting a three, Leopards’ lead never dipped into single figures in the third period and Courtney Van Beest – who had an excellent game for the visitors – sent them into the final break with a 55-40 lead.
Clark opened the fourth period scoring, but a 7-0 run capped by another Popoola three pointer saw the home side close the gap to seven points before Josey stopped the tear and two three-point plays from Van Beest wrapped up the win.
The game saw the midway point in Leopards’ Division One season, as they go into the second half of the campaign in fourth spot with nine wins from 13 games.
The Big Cats now have a weekend off before returning to Brentwood on Sunday, February 9 to face Leicester Warriors (tip-off 4pm).