A PERFECT weekend for Essex Leopards saw them reach the National Trophy final and move up the English Basketball League Division One table.
A 92-84 victory at Hemel Storm on Saturday evening saw the Big Cats reach the final of the one competition they failed to win last season.
And the following day saw second-placed Team Northumbria comfortably beaten 73-56 in front of a packed Brentwood Centre crowd to complete Leopards’ first back-to-back weekend success of the season.
At Hemel, Simon Cummings poured in a career-best 38 points, adding five rebounds and four assists, as Leopards led for almost the whole game despite the hosts’ never-say-die attitude.
Greg Hernandez finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, and Carl Josey added 11 and nine boards for Leopards as they never looked back after a 28-17 first period.
The visitors led by as many as 13 in the second period before Hemel trimmed the lead to 44-37 at half-time.
With Cummings scoring well from three-point land, Robert Youngblood’s team led 69-55 at the final break.
And although the hosts pulled within three points with four minutes remaining, nine straight Cummings points down the stretch saw Leopards home and they will now face Tees Valley Mohawks in the final in Leicester on Saturday, February 23.
Hernandez led the way on Sunday with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists as Leopards never trailed after the opening stages.
Taner Adu added 18 points while Cummings had 14 points, six assists and five boards, and Rowell Graham added nine points and 10 rebounds.
A dunk from Rowell Graham with three minutes gone gave Leopards a lead they would never lose, and they led 22-11 at the first break before being pegged back to 35-27 going into the locker room at half-time.
A 7-0 run sparked by Cummings saw Leopards close out the third period with a 53-38 lead and the visitors never got closer than eight points as the Big Cats collected their eighth league win of the campaign.
Leopards return to action on Sunday when they take on Bristol Academy Flyers at the Southend Tennis & Leisure Centre.