A TENSE game at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday saw Leopards reach their fourth straight Final Fours with a 65-57 victory against Bristol Academy Flyers.
Robert Youngblood’s team will now travel to Manchester on Saturday April 26 to face Leeds Carnegie in the semi-final, with the final taking place the following day.
Howard Crawford again led the Big Cats with 23 points and eight rebounds, but it was guard Andre Lockhart who took the game by the scruff of the neck down the stretch on the way to a 19 point game.
Kris Clark finished with 11 points and five rebounds, while Shaun Durant had 11 boards to go with his six points.
Ultimately it was an 11-0 run in the fourth period sparked by Lockhart which sealed the game as the visitors were held scoreless for almost six minutes, The home side started slowly with Roy Owen and Greg Streete giving Bristol a 3-0 lead, but Clark started a 9-2 run with Crawford hitting back-to-back baskets.
Four straight Streete free-throws levelled the score at nine but Crawford took his tally to six, and a Courtney Van Beest basket sent Leopards into the first break with a 17-12 lead.
That advantage quickly evaporated as Duane Lautier-Ogunleye buried a three in a 6-0 start to the second period from the visitors, and although baskets from Clark and Durant broke the run, it was only poor foul shooting from the Flyers that kept Leopards in touch.
A three point play from Crawford cut the deficit to a single point but the Flyers went into the locker room at half-time 33-30 ahead.
Streete made it a five-point game with the opening shot of the second half, but Lockhart’s efforts points put Leopards 39-38 ahead with three third period minutes remaining.
A pair of Owen baskets put Bristol ahead again, and although Lockhart’s and-one gave Leopards a one point lead, three pointers from Streete and Tomas Okros sent Bristol into the final break with a 50-47 lead.
That lead grew to five as Lautier-Ogunleye opened the fourth period scoring before scores from Lockhart and Crawford pulled Leopards within a point before Doug McLaughlin-Williams scored what proved to be their final field goal of the game as he sunk a three with 7:24 on the clock to put his side 55-51 ahead.
Lockhart halved the lead but after a 90 second lull in scoring Crawford sunk a single free-throw to make it a one point game.
A Crawford dunk off Clark’s assist gave Leopards’ the lead with 4:06 on the clock.
Clark made it a three-point game with a pair of foul shots before the game was effectively sealed with 99 seconds left as Crawford blocked McLaughlin-Williams’ three-pointer, grabbed the rebound and fed the ball for Clark to dunk it home and put Leopards 60-55 ahead.
Clark made it a seven-point game before Lautier-Ogunleye ended the drought from the foul line. But Crawford slammed another massive dunk before Lockhart wrapped up the win at the foul line.