COVENTRY CRUSADERS 68 LEEDS CARNEGIE 69
Despair swarmed the Coventry Sports Centre late on Saturday evening as Leeds secured the solitary point they needed with two seconds left to defeat Coventry 68-69 and send them to the foot of National League Division One.
Leeds' Henry Wilkins kept his cool to convert the second of his free throws after the referee judged Crusaders forward Siman Stewart had fouled Wilkins deep in the right channel.
It's the second game in succession Stewart has been the unfortunate protagonist of late drama when he missed a late free throw to force overtime in December's 79-80 defeat to Reading.
Things started so brightly in the opening seven minutes as Casey Crawford showed the quality and influence head coach Roger Payne signed him for. The American grabbed consecutive 3-pointers in the opening 90 seconds to spark a period of defensive pressure that opened up an 11 point gap between the two sides.
Michael Gayle's pace and Crawford's perimeter shooting was causing havoc down Carnegie's left as the first quarter wore on at 15-4, yet Leeds were helped back in it via a pair of free throws either side of a Marek Koltun field goal to end the quarter with Crusaders leading 16-14.
Coventry began the second identically as they did the first. Crawford and Stewart were aggressive and kept up defensive pressure on the offensive rebounds to help form a short-lived five point lead at 26-21.
Leeds undid Coventry's hard work to widen the deficit half way through the second when David Siddal made a cross-court pass for Koltun to claim three points, making it 26-24.
Crawford's withdrawal at the start of the second quarter was highlighted when Crusaders' discipline started to falter as they gave away four points from two fouls to allow Leeds a short-lived lead for the first time in the game with 3:16 on the clock.
Yet the rebounding prowess of Stewart and Damilola Fakunle's strength at the hoop meant Coventry surged back into the lead with four points of their own at 30-28. The quarter ended with a series of quick exchanges - Fakunle grabbing a point after he was fouled in the hole when set up by some slick ball movement between captain Michael Gayle, Roy Owen and Simon Payne. The first half finished all square at 33-33.
Crusaders started the brighter of the two after the break as Fakunle turned on the style by wowing fans with a slam dunk to compliment a 7-point run which involved Crawford's vision and Gayle's anticipation to set up scorers Fakunle and Owen as Crusaders pushed forward at 39-33.
Leeds, who were without American duo Adrian Fenyn and Mike Medved for this clash, were limited to just seven points in the third which had a scrappy end that included eight free throws in two minutes.
Coventry kid Dave Edden made his presence known at the start of the final quarter, drifting to the hoop for two to make it 52-42 to Crusaders. The deficit would soon dissipate though as Roger Payne's men struggled to cope with the mobility of Siddal and stature of Koltun who both drew fouls to help the score up to 52-49.
Coach Payne deployed Crawford back on the pitch with 7:11 left for a composed response to a late Leeds surge. It proved effective as they found themselves 61-51 up with four minutes left courtesy of the American's defensive rebounding, perimeter shooting and assists.
Despite holding Leeds at bay for the majority of the game, Coventry failed to look after the ball in the last four minutes, and Carnegie went on a seven point run to draw the game level at 63-63.
Cameron Gypsyn and Albert Margai proved a late threat in Leeds' comeback, and it was the latter who put them ahead with a 3-pointer with one minute on the clock.
Gayle promptly replied with two points to make it 65-66 and was unable to take advantage of the additional point when he was fouled on making the shot, but Crawford eased his worries with a calm field goal from the left to swing the game back to Coventry at 67-66.
Leeds grabbed the initiative back for the third time in a minute when Gyorgy Polya drifted in from the left for two to make it 67-68 with 12 seconds left before the late drama ensued.
It looked like the game was heading into over time when Fakunle converted one of two free throws with four seconds left, but a quick punt down the stretch saw Stewart penalised for a foul on Wilkins. There was hope for Coventry as Wilkins missed his first attempt, but his cool finish second time round means the wait for that second win of the season goes on.
Crusaders: Crawford 15; Fakunle 14; Henry-Fontaine 8.
Leeds: Koltun 14; Clifford 9; Siddall 8.
Quarter scores: 16-14; 17-19; 17-9; 18-27.