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Essex Leopards title hopes still alive as season reaches climax

08:00 04 April 2014

Andre Lockhart in action against Team Northumbria. Paul Phillips

Andre Lockhart in action against Team Northumbria. Paul Phillips

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Essex Leopards go into the final week of the regular season with their outside title hopes still alive and could still win Division One at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday (6pm start).

The Big Cats were due to make the short trip to Newham Neptunes last night before concluding their season against Westminster Warriors on Sunday.

Robert Youngblood’s team will need to win both of those games and hope that Reading Rockets slip up against Medway Park Crusaders and Leicester Warriors.

The trip to Newham will see the Big Cats face a side sitting in ninth place needing a victory to strengthen their play-off hopes.

Sunday’s opponents at the Brentwood Centre will have little to play for – relegation has been avoided and they will finish 12th regardless of other results.

The Big Cats were made to fight all the way before recording a pair of home victories over the weekend, beating Medway Park 90-84 on Saturday and Team Northumbria 83-80 in overtime the following day.

Howard Crawford led all scorers with a huge 25 points against Medway, while Kris Clark finished with 22 points and five assists.

Andre Lockhart added 17 points and six assists, with Carl Josey and Courtney Van Beest scoring 10 apiece.

Youngblood’s team trailed 30-20 at the first break and 48-40 at half time, and didn’t take the lead until midway through the third period when Clark drained back-to-back three-pointers.

Clearly Leopards don’t do things the easy way, and they trailed by 20 points with six minutes of regulation time to go, before Andre Lockhart seized control of the game with seven points in 79 seconds to send the game into overtime.

The visitors scored the first five points in overtime, before Lockhart sparked an 8-0 run to give Leopards their first lead of the game.

Jack Thompson levelled the score with a three-pointer, but it was Lockhart’s night as he drained a trey with six seconds remaining to give Leopards the win.

The victory came at a cost as coach Youngblood was ejected late in the game for arguing about a foul call on Van Beest, and now looks likely to miss the semi-final and final of the play-offs if Leopards qualify.

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