Godfrey Leacock’s in a zone.
And it’s taking Cougars all the way to basketball’s knock-out semis.
The gung-ho guard had 16 of a season-best 41 points in the fourth quarter before scoring the eventual game-winner in extra time as Nicholls Baking Cougars stunned the league leading Act II Popcorn Clapham Bulls in Wednesday’s 91-89 quarter-final thriller at the YMCA.
It was the second time in as many games that Leacock set a season-high in scoring, having erupted for a similar 40-point effort against Intermediate side Royals.
But the streaky shooting guard went one better against his Premier League tormenters in an “other-worldly” array of step-back jumpers, deep three-pointers and acrobatic lay-ups.
Ironically, his simplest of baskets was the one with the most impact, as Leacock broke an 89-all deadlock on an uncontested lay-up via a 2-on-1 play with 25 seconds remaining in overtime.
Clapham still had three chances to force a second extra period, but Halley Franklyn overshot a tough running banker before Sydney Rowe missed two potential game-tying free throws seconds later.
However, Franklyn got his finger tips on the rebound, only to watch the tip-in bounce harmlessly off the backboard as time expired.
That wild, last-second finish was the unexpected conclusion to a contest that featured more twists and turns than a Coney Island rollercoaster.
It certainly would have been startling for Clapham who thought they had survived the worst after enduring two separate individual outbursts in the first half alone before leading by as many ten (63-53) in the third.
The first came via a series of open-court lay-ups from Leacock that gave Cougars an 23-21 first-quarter lead following an initial Clapham run.
But if Leacock’s surge opened the lead, then Lloyd Griffith’s subsequent run maintained it, as the newly-acquired overseas-based forward wasted no time introducing himself to Bajan basketball.
And no one got familiar with Griffith quite like Bulls centre Sean Parris, who got “posterized” on a thunderous one-handed facial midway through the second quarter.
It was the highlight play of Griffith’s ten-point explosion in that period which kept Cougars ahead 41-39 at the half.
However, Jeremy Gill countered with a 12-point assault of his own in the third quarter, turning an early 49-41 deficit into a 63-55 advantage as part of a dramatic 16-point turnaround.
Cougars’ cause wasn’t helped any after Griffith was forced to the bench following an unwarranted technical, while Leacock, Shawn Gaskin and Sean Corbin all sat out as well with either injury or foul trouble.
Leacock, Griffith and Gaskin returned with a vengeance, combining for all of Cougars’ 27 fourth-quarter points during a 22-9 run that put them back up 77-72 with 4:16 remaining.
But Clapham’s response was just as furious, with Rahiim Gibbons hitting a clutch trey before Gill added another as part of his quick five-point surge that locked the scores at 82 inside the final minute.
Gill also had a chance to win it in regulation after a crucial Cougars turnover gave Bulls back the ball with 24 seconds left, but his last-second trey harmlessly rebounded off the ring after he settled for a contested jumper.
Griffith fouled out with 26 points and Gaskin added 17 while Gill top-scored for Clapham with 26 points.
Cougars will play fellow Premier League team Roll-A-Way St John’s Sonics in next week’s semi-finals after George Haynes had five of his 15 points in the fourth to survive Pinelands’ second-half rally in a 62-57 victory.