Leopards’ assistant coach Roger Malpass had praise for the Big Cats after Saturday’s thrilling 99-91 victory against Tees Valley Mohawks saw them win the National Trophy.
“I think it was an extremely close game and hard fought one between two good team. I always thought we had the edge and had sufficient strength to control the game, maybe we didn’t take advantage of that enough.
“Some fantastic defence by Carl Josey locking down their main scorers was a key factor and we also started to finish around the basket. And then in overtime Robert Youngblood rolled back the years to finish with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“The atmosphere was fantastic and I was really pleased for the organisation. We had people from all over the place, from Leicester and from Milton Keynes and it was good to hear them supporting us.”
Malpass, who is one of the former MK Lions contingent at the Big Cats, believes that Youngblood still has plenty to offer the Big Cats as a player: “He could play a lot longer, maybe two more years – it depends whether he wants to keep playing.”
Losing coach Steve Butler gave credit to their opponents and both sets of fans: “I’m so proud of the guys. It’s very disappointing to lose in overtime when we had a shot at the buzzer at normal time to win the game, but the way the guys gave everything out on the court tonight was fantastic. Credit to [Robert] Youngblood and his team for making the final such a fantastic game.
“Both set of supporters were amazing, loud and really created a great atmosphere of which the players stepped up to. We will now concentrate on our league form and try to get back to winning ways and try to push for home court advantage in the Playoffs because our fans deserve days out like this again.”
While Leopards were unable to make it a winning weekend as they went down 68-65 against Medway Park Crusaders at Crystal Palace on Sunday, Craig Nicol – the coach of the Kent side – also had praise for the Big Cats: “I’m very pleased to have been able to grind out the win away at the new National Trophy winners. We started very well but once Essex settled in they did well to limit our scoring opportunities. Cole Hobin came up big for us especially in the 4th with one of his best performances of the season which helped us keep in front in the final quarter. I was impressed with how Essex played given their overtime victory the day before and I had hoped to see some tired legs but they did very well to compete.”