IN a tense game at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday Leopards reached their fourth straight Final Fours with victory against Bristol Academy Flyers.
Robert Youngblood’s team will now travel to Manchester on Saturday, April 26 to face Leeds Carnegie in the semi-final, with the final taking place the next day.
Howard Crawford again led the Big Cats with 23 points and eight rebounds, but it was guard Andre Lockhart who took things by the scruff of the neck with a 19-point game. Kris Clark finished with 11 points and five rebounds, while Shaun Durant had 11 boards to go with his six points.
The home side started slowly with Roy Owen and Greg Streete giving Bristol a 3-0 lead, but a Clark trey started a 9-2 run and Crawford hit back-to-back baskets.
Four straight Streete free-throws levelled the score at nine, but Crawford took his tally to six and a Courtney Van Beest basket sent Leopards into the first break with a 17-12 lead.
That advantage quickly evaporated as Duane Lautier-Ogunleye buried a three in a 6-0 start to the second period from the visitors, although baskets from Clark and Durant broke the run.
Crawford cut the deficit to a single point, but the Flyers went into the locker room at half-time 33-30 ahead as Jordan Rankine beat the buzzer.
Streete, who along with Lautier-Ogunleye led his side with 15 points, made it a five-point game with the opening shot of the second half, but straight Lockhart points put Leopards 39-38 ahead.
A pair of Owen baskets put Bristol ahead again, and, although Lockhart gave Leopards a one-point lead, treys from Streete and Tomas Okros sent Bristol into the final break with a 50-47 lead.
That lead grew to five as Lautier-Ogunleye opened the fourth period scoring before scores from Lockhart and Crawford pulled Leopards within a point.
Doug McLaughlin-Williams scored what proved to be their final field goal of the game as he sank a three to put his side 55-51 ahead.
Lockhart halved the lead, but after a 90-second lull in scoring Crawford sunk a single free-throw to make it a one-point game.
A Crawford dunk off Clark’s assist gave Leopards’ the lead with 4:06 on the clock before a massive block from Durant on Streete brought the crowd to its feet.
Clark made it a three-point game with a pair of foul shots before Crawford again dunked off his assist before the game was effectively sealed with 99 seconds on the clock as Crawford blocked McLaughlin-Williams’ 3-pointer, grabbed the rebound and fed the ball for Clark to dunk it home and put Leopards 60-55 ahead.
Clark made it a seven point game before Lautier-Ogunleye ended the drought from the foul line, but Crawford slammed another dunk before Lockhart wrapped up the win at the foul line.