Leopards start play-offs quest after league win

Brentwood Weekly News: Leopards players, staff and fans celebrate with the league title Leopards players, staff and fans celebrate with the league title

BASKETBALL: Leopards will host Medway Park Crusaders at Basildon Sporting Village on Sunday afternoon (4pm) as they look to add a third piece of silverware this season.

Having already clinched the Division One championship and National Cup, Dejan Mihevc’s team now start the play-offs against a Crusaders side who finished eighth in the table.

The Kent team ended the campaign with 12 wins and as many losses in their debut season in the top flight of English basketball.

They were the last side to beat Leopards in league play when a visiting side minus star forward Ousman Krubally went down 93-83.

Since then Leopards have reeled off 19 straight league win and won 21 out of 22 games in all competitions to complete a league and cup double, but coach Dejan Mihevc still wants more from the season: “We’re excited about the play-offs, and we want to finish the season with a win. The supporters have been great this season, and we want to reward them with a victory in our final home game.”

The winner of Sunday’s tie will face either Worthing Thunder or Leicester Warriors in the semi-final at the Amaechi Centre in Manchester on Saturday April 28, with the final at the same venue the following day.

While Leopards lost that league game in Canterbury in December, they have won both other games against the Crusaders this season. A high-scoring encounter in October saw the Big Cats come out 103-92 winners in the National Trophy, before a comfortable 78-61 win at Brentwood in March saw them continue their winning streak in the league.

The Big Cats wrapped up their league campaign on Easter Sunday with a comprehensive 106-88 victory against Thunder in front of a large crowd at Basildon Sporting Village.

Despite being without starting centre Zak Wells, who is on a week’s trial with Italian top division side Rimini, Josh Steel who was playing for England under-16s and the injured Bradley Wilkinson, the Big Cats dominated the game and led for all but the first 13 seconds.

They never looked back as Vernon Teel scored six of the first 10 points, and the lead only briefly dropped into single figures after Leopards went into the first break with a 33-21 lead.

A 15-8 start to the second period saw Leopards blow the game open, and their 56-40 half-time lead quickly ballooned to 74-51 after five second half minutes.

The home side were still 20 up going into the fourth period, and despite coach Mihevc running his whole roster during the closing stages, they comfortably recorded a third win of the season against the south coast side.

Vernon Teel recorded his ninth triple-double of the season with 30 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds in under 25 minutes. Ousman Krubally kept his run of double-doubles going with 18 points and 11 boards in 22 minutes.

Simonas Bublys, who started in place of Wells repaid his coach’s faith in him with 16 points and nine rebounds, while David Buchberger needed on 19 minutes to finish with 15 points, five rebounds and as many assists.

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