An exciting weekend of NBL action finished in stunning fashion with two highly entertaining National Cup semi-finals as we now know the line up for the showpiece of the Men's National Cup next month.
Essex fell to 1-15 on the year following an 87-66 home defeat against Bradford.
The Leopards started well, tying the opening period before losing the 2nd 30-15 and the 3rd 18-9 to effectively end the contest. With the Dragons' lead hitting 25 points at one stage, there was little to cheer for the home fans the longer the game wore on.
Bradford enjoyed a balanced attack, with David Walsh and Rihard Sulcs both scoring 18, Ricky Fetske adding 17 and Albert Margai chipping in 15 more. Sulcs added 13 rebounds for a double-double and Fetske was a monster on the glass, pulling down 21 boards.
Teni Mongo was the standout for Essex, he finished with a game high 21 points to go with seven rebounds. Fortunately for the beaten hosts, the other teams around the bottom of the standings failed to pick up points, providing at least some good news coach Baker's side.
With Solent taking a week off from D1M to focus on the National Cup, that allowed Hemel Storm to reel in the leaders a little following a comfortable 111-79 win over Westminster Warriors. A 31-15 opening quarter set the tempo for the game, with Hemel's Will Ashby going 6/7 from deep for a game high 20 points.
Thames Valley also enjoyed a productive weekend, dispatching strugglers Liverpool 111-77 thanks to 29 points from Hakeem Sylla. The talented forward would eventually shoot a perfect 14/14 from the floor, adding 16 rebounds (12 on offence), four assists and four steals to cap an incredible individual performance.
Worthing Thunder recorded an impressive road win as they went to Derby an claimed a 98-91 victory. Despite trailing by nine after the 1st quarter, Worthing fought back well, with Tom Ward eventually finishing on 29 points. Malcolm Smith's 17 point, 12 rebound double-double would be in vain for the hosts who slip to 9-6 on the season.
Sunday's only contest saw Leicester claim an important 94-81 win against Nottingham Hoods, strengthening the Warriors' push for a post season spot. TJ Henderson was once again in sparkling form for the visitors, impressing the NBL Live cameras with 36 points.
The line up for next month's National Cup Final is now complete following two hard fought semi-finals this weekend.
22 points from American Travis Charles helped Team Solent Kestrels past defending champions Loughborough Riders 86-70, ensuring there will be a different name on the prestigious National Cup in 2019/20.
In the other semi-final, Division Two's Myerscough College couldn't claim a third straight top flight scalp as part of their impressive Cup run, eventually falling to a Nick Richards inspired Reading Rockets 77-58.
5:00pm - Liverpool 77 - 111 Thames Valley Cavaliers - LIVE STATS
5:30pm - Westminster Warriors 79 - 111 Hemel Storm - LIVE STATS
5:45pm - Essex & Herts Leopards 66 - 87 Bradford Dragons - LIVE STATS
7:15pm - Derby Trailblazers 91 - 98 Worthing Thunder - LIVE STATS
5:00pm - Nottingham Hoods 81 - 94 Leicester Warriors - LIVE STATS
Seven games are spread across next week as the pressure continues to build at both ends of the table.
Barking Abbey host Livepool on Saturday in what is sure to be a huge clash at the bottom of the standings, with Essex & Herts Leopards facing Westminster in a similarly important clash. Hemel welcome Derby and Loughborough take on Bradford in Saturday's other two fixtures.
Sunday contains a trio of games, with Barking once again in action as they play Derby, Liverpool head to Reading and Worthing are on the road as they play Bradford.
Main image credit - Shaun Colley/Reading Rockets