Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECHONEWS to 80360, or email us »
Rob Youngblood's Essex Leopards have the upper hand
ESSEX Leopards made the perfect start to the EBL Division One season with a pair of three-point wins in the north east at the weekend.
Robert Youngblood’s side won 89-86 at Tees Valley Mohawks on Saturday before making it two victories in as many days with a 74-71 success at Team Northumbria.
A strong first half proved to be the key at Tees Valley as the Big Cats gained revenge for their National Trophy loss against the Mohawks.
Led by 23 points from Kris Clark, the visitors led 24-19 at the first break before controlling the second period to lead 49-37 going into the locker room at half-time.
A third period injury to American big man Howard Crawford upset Leopards rhythm as he received a blow to the face and the home side cut the lead to 72-64 heading into the final period.
The home side continued to chip away at the lead but the Big Cats went into the final minute 84-79 ahead and they trailed by just two heading into the final 11 seconds before Leopards wrapped things up at the foul line.
Captain Carl Josey finished with 22 points while Crawford added 14.
It was a contrasting story the following day as the Big Cats came good in the second half to chalk up their fourth straight victory.
Crawford was clearly over the previous day’s injury as he led the way for the Essex side with 27 points, while Clark added 14 and Josey 11.
Leopards shaded the first period 24-23 but the hosts took control in the second period to outscore them 20-15 and lead by four at the half-time break.
The third period proved to be key for Youngblood’s side as they outscored the home team 19-13 to take a 58-56 lead into the final break.
That lead grew to 65-60 at the five minute mark but an 8-3 run from the home side saw them tie the game with 148 seconds on the clock.
That was as good as it got for the Geordies as they were held to a single point in the next 90 seconds as Leopards opened a 72-69 lead and Leopards again proved to be cool down the stretch to open the season with back-to-back wins in the league for the first time since 2008.
The Big Cats travel to struggling Leicester Warriors on Saturday before returning to the Brentwood Centre on Friday November 15 when unbeaten Newham Neptunes are the visitors, tip-off 7.30pm.
Warriors lost all six of their National Trophy games, went out of the National Cup to third division Northants and have lost their first two league games.