Trophy heart-break for Leopards

Leopards’ Trophy hopes were ended in agonising fashion at Hemel Storm on Sunday as they went down 95-94 at Hemel Storm

American forward Asante Sandiford had the chance to put his side into semi-final but he failed to connect on a pair of free-throws with just 0.6 seconds remaining before missing the tip-in on the buzzer.

Sandiford had led the Big Cats with 37 points and 12 rebounds in a high-scoring game which saw the lead repeatedly change.

The teams were tied at 93 with a minute left before Lee Hodges converted a lay-up off Luke Mascall-Wright’s lay-up, only to Levi Noel’s trey put his side ahead with 32 seconds on the clock.

Both sides missed before Sandiford was left with the ball in his hands and seven seconds on the clock. He drove to the basket and was fouled Leome Francis, but with the home fans in full voice he missed both foul shorts to send Leopards out of the competition.

Mascall-Wright finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, while Sam Newman added seven assists to his ten points. Former Hemel big man Hodges finished with a 13 point, ten rebound double-double, and his ex-Storm team-mate Chuck Duru came off the bench to add 12 points and seven boards.

Mascall-Wright had opened the scoring with a triple, and an assist from Sandiford to give Duru a lay-up saw Leopards lead 29-25 at the first break.

A driving lay-up from Mascall-Wright and a Hodges dunk saw Leopards keep ahead and Sandiford’s basket kept them up by two at the mid-stage of the second quarter.

Former Leopard Shaq Lewis briefly gave the hosts the lead with a trey, but Findlay Wood answered from the Land of Plenty and three straight three-point plays from Sandiford saw the Big Cat go into the locker room with a 57-51 lead at the half-time break.

A poor start to the second half saw Hemel take control with a ten straight points before Sandiford broke the run and Leopards stayed in touch and Mascall-Wright drained from downtown to cut Hemel’s lead to 77-76 at the final break.

A Hodges lay-up an a three-point play by Sandiford tied the game and Mascall-Wright again levelled the score at 91 going into the final three minutes. Sandiford and Levi Noel exchanged baskets to set up the grandstand finish, but ultimately Leopards came up just short and will now look to concentrate on getting a place in the end-of-season play-offs.

Blaine Freckleton led the hosts with 35 points, while Francis added 22 and Noel 13.