LEVETT Essex Leopards opened their defence of the Division One title with an 89-57 victory at Worthing Thunder before edging out Westminster Warriors 70-69 to reach the last eight of the National Cup .

Against Thunder,a15-3 run at the start of the second half saw the Big Cats break open a tight game before the home side were destroyed 35-14 in the final period to give Leopards the win.

Ladi Brown and Will Ashby returned to the Leopards team after missing the previous week’s Trophy loss at Worthing, and led the way with 19 points apiece, Brown adding nine rebounds .

Justin Hitchman added 17 points and five boards, while Tom Martin finished with 12 points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes of action.

The following day saw another thriller for the Leopards fans as the Big Cats set up a clash with Derby Trailblazers. The Big Cats started well and a barrage of treys from Ashby and Brown helped them open a 15-4 lead. They led 55-48 going into the final break and Evan Walshe took the lead to 59-52 with three fourth-quarter minutes remaining.

Oyelese made it a three-point game going into the final minute before Joshua Palmer pulled his side back within a point with a pair of free-throws and Leopards turned the ball over with seve n seconds remaining.