Essex Leopards wary of the threat posed by Bristol Academy Flyers

Echo: Lawrence Brown Lawrence Brown

ESSEX Leopards will host old rivals Bristol Academy Flyers in the play-off quarter-final at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday.

The Big Cats had to settle for the runners-up spot in Division One of the English Basketball League after Reading Rockets won both their games to take the title.

But Robert Youngblood’s team will look to finish the season on a high by winning the play-offs.

“Bristol have been a bit inconsistent this season and they clearly missed Doug McLaughlin-Williams before Christmas, but on their day they can beat anyone,” said Youngblood.

“It would be great to see a good crowd for our last home game, we’ve had a good season and won our last nine home league games, so we’re certainly looking to go out on a high and qualify for the Final Four.”

The two sides met twice in January, each winning at home, but the Big Cats have since added guard Andre Lockhart and forward Shaun Durant to their line-up as they look to reach their fourth straight final four and collect their fifth piece of silverware in three seasons.

With American forward McLaughlin-Williams failing to join up with Bristol until after Christmas due to visa problems, Flyers have had their most disappointing Division One season since gaining promotion in 2007, finishing seventh with a 14-12 record.

The Big Cats wrapped up the league season with a comfortable 83-59 victory against Westminster Warriors at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday evening.

After Kris Clark had scored the opening two baskets of the game to spark a 10-3 start to the game the Big Cats led from tip-to-buzzer as they picked up their 20th league victory of the campaign.

A pair of Olabiyi Odumosu free-throws cut the home side’s lead to one with two first period minutes remaining, but Durant sparked 9-1 run to end the first period with a 25-16 lead.

With Youngblood running his bench for much of the second period, the lead grew to 12 as George Naiwo scored a three pointer to open the second period, but the sides shared 34 points to see the Big Cats go into the locker room with a 42-33 advantage.

The third quarter saw Leopards extend that lead to 60-47 as Naiwo and Lawrence Brown helped them finish strongly, before Leopards’ strength in depth proved crucial in the last 10 minutes as the visitors were outscored 23-12.

Howard Crawford led Leopards with 15 points and seven rebounds, with Clark and Brown adding 14 points apiece.

Carl Josey had eight boards to go with his 11 points, while Durant pulled down a massive 15 rebounds along with his eight points.

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