Leopards are the Champions

Mark Woods

Greater London Leopards have taken their second successive Budweiser League title after a dramatic 102-106 victory in overtime over Sheffield Sharks. Eric Burks was the Leopards' man for the hour, sinking 9 of Leopards 16 overtime points after regulation ended at 90-90 as Sharks' Deon Hames missed a drive with 1 second remaining. However, Billy Mims' side proved to have the stuff of champions to kick start the celebrations at Sheffield Arena.

Both teams found themselves in early foul trouble as Sharks raced to an 8-2 lead, but Leopards came back to take a lead at 12-15. Todd Cauthorn came off the bench to put the pressure back on Leopards, draining a hat trick of three pointers to put his team up 32-28 at the end of the opening stanza. At the restart, each side suffered from turnovers, but a 0-14 streak for the visitors brought the title into sight at 38-48 with a late tip in by Sharks Wil Johnson reducing the half time deficit to 48-53.

Midway through the third, Leopards' Ryan Cuff lost his cool and gained a double technical to send hi out of the game and give Sharks 4/6 from the subsequent trip to the foul line, and when John Amaechi hit a short jumper, the score was 65-67 with 4:38 remaining in the period. A 0-6 open up the gap again by Myers and Hames' late trips to the line ended the quarter at 76-78. As news of Bullets' win came through, Sharks kept the pressure on and a three pointer from Myers gave his side the lead at 85-84 with 5:25 remaining. A series of 6 missed shots by Leopards added to their nerves and set the game up for a finish. A basket by John White to give his side the lead was cancelled out by Amaechi and Eric Burks was fortunate to see his turnover go unpunished as time expired. However in the extra period, Burks, White and Youngblood fittingly stepped up to score the points which take the title back to East London. Burks finished with 31 points with captain Youngblood lifting the Trophy with a 27 points haul. John Amaechi led Sharks with 26.

Coach Mims was ecstatic at the result. "We like to do it the hard way," he smiled. "We refused to lose and we came through to win it! If there is one thing that characterises our season, I think it's the fact that we were always tough in close games. We had four overtimes in out last eleven games in particular and we won them all." Owner Ed Symons was equally gratified. "It's everything we could have wanted. Everyone was against us, but we came through.

Peugeot Bullets Birmingham could only watch in agony, after they kept their own ambitions afloat until the end of the Sheffield contest, beating London Towers 65-67 at Wembley. Bullets must look back and rue the 87-91 overtime loss to the champions last month which proved the deciding factor between the sides.

Towers took the lead 13-4 early on, but three treys from captain Nigel Lloyd steadied the Birmingham nerves and pulled in a 13-15 lead. Early in the second, Birmingham extended the lead to 21-28 but a 7-0 reply finished by James Hamilton evened the scores, before a 2-8 streak put the title chasers up by six at half time.

An even third period eventually gave Towers a 49-48 advantage going into the last stanza, and a Chris Haslam lay up put them ahead to start the final 10 minutes. Tied at 60-60 with 30 seconds left, Reggie Kirk took his chance to a trey of open up a 62-65 lead, and Bullets held on for the win they so desperately needed. However, as the Brummies watched the drama unfold further north, Mike Finger's side could only despair as Leopards extinguished their hopes of a first League crown. Tony Dorsey ended the regular season at the top of the scoring charts after a 23 point haul, while Keith Robinson led Towers with 25.

 Chester Jets ended their season with some small consolation by getting a 115-107 victory over Converse Crystal Palace. Seven three pointers from Brian Lloyd helped Jets erase a 10 point half time deficit to edge ahead down the stretch. Lloyd led Jets with 29 total, while Eric Cardenas finished off his season with 36 points.

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