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Greg Hernandez leads the way as Essex Leopards win National Trophy
GREG Hernandez led the way as Essex Leopards won the National Trophy in thrilling fashion, beating Tees Valley Mohawks 99-91 in over-time.
Hernandez was named MVP after top scoring for the Big Cats with 26 points.
But he was keen to play down his part in the triumph.
“I may have got an award but it was a real team effort and everyone played a part in the win,” said Hernandez, 24.
“Taner (Adu) had 25 points before he got injured, Simon (Cummings) had a complete game and although Carl Josey won’t show up on the stats line he did a crucial job in defence in order for us to win it.
“It was a real see-saw, up and down game but we were able to come out on top and it was a fantastic feeling.
“Hopefully we can keep playing well now and can get another trophy by winning the play-offs at the end of the season.”
Both sides traded baskets in the opening exchanges in Leicester before an Adu three capped a 9-2 run to put Leopards 15-8.
They led 19-15 at the end of the first period but the second belonged to Mohawks James Hansen as he poured in 20 points including six three pointers to put his side in the driving seat with a 51-42 lead at half-time.
However, Cummings opened the second half scoring to launch an 8-0 run which saw the Big Cats pull within a point before Hansen scored what proved to be his only three pointer after half-time.
A pair of three-point plays from Cummings gave Leopards their first lead after the break but there was little to choose between the teams in the rest of the period and Leopards went into the fourth period with a 70-68 lead.
Adu then hit a single free-throw to open before Rowell Graham made it a five point game.
But it took until 40 seconds from the end of the fourth period before an and-one from Hernandez put the Big Cats back into the lead at 84-83.
Kohn replied with a three point play of his own to put Mohawks up by two before Hansen fouled Cummings with 25 seconds left, and the American guard coolly drained both free throws to level things.
After that, Kohn missed a shot with eight seconds on the clock and Youngblood grabbed the rebound to set Hernandez up for an attempted buzzer-beater, but it rimmed out and the game went to an extra period.
The additional five minutes belonged to Leopards as Youngblood showed that even as he approaches his 43rd birthday he can still take over a game.
The Leopards’ coach hit the first two baskets of the additional period, and although Cummings missed a pair at the foul line, Josey made it a five point game with a single free-throw.
Jorge Ebanks hit a three to cut the lead to 91-89 with 2:09 minutes on the clock before Youngblood doubled the advantage after Josey had pulled down a rebound.
Youngblood and Cummings both split pairs of free-throws to make it a six point game with 22 seconds remaining and that sealed Leopards’ win.