ESSEX Leopards defeated Worthing Thunder 76-70 to move up to second in the English Basketball League Division One table.

The Big Cats trail leaders Reading Rockets by four points and are the only team able to prevent the Rockets retaining the EBL title.

Leopards had led by 15 with just under four minutes remaining before Thunder rattled off 10 straight points to make it 71-66 with a minute left.

But the home side wrapped up the win from the foul line.

The Big Cats overcame a slow start to lead 23-13 going into the first break.

And although Thunder made it a one-point game with four second-period minutes gone, an 8-0 run started and capped by Kris Clark baskets helped the home side lead 40-31 heading into the locker room at half-time.

A Clark basket with a minute of the third-period remaining extended that lead to 12 before Thunder imploded.

Brendan Okoronkwo was called for an intentional foul on Leopard’s Carl Josey, and both Okoronkwo and Bud Johnson picked up technical fouls.

Josey sunk all six free-throws to send Leopards into the final break 63-45 ahead, and although Thunder gave the home side a late scare, they held on for their 16th league win of the campaign.

Clark led the way with 21 points, while Howard Crawford added 20 points and seven rebounds.

Josey was perfect in his nine visits to the foul line to finish with 17 points and six rebounds.