By Ian Shalapata
(WINDSOR, ON) – A structural engineer is being sought after the Windsor Express and over 2,300 boisterous fans raised the roof last night at The Station. In the midst of a run for the playoffs, the Express were facing their Ontario rivals, the first place London Lightning, and the out-of-towners brought their A-game. The evening saw everything from personal rivalries to strategic coaching, from a come-back victory to overtime excitement. In the end, Windsor eked out a 1 point win, besting London 108-107.
The first two quarters witnessed a see-saw battle with the lead never exceeding a couple of points until Windsor found themselves down by seven at the half, 45-38. In the third quarter, Head Coach Bill Jones realized that something had to change when London pulled ahead by as much as 12 points. Windsor has had a strong bench all season with different individuals stepping up as needed. This time Stefan Bonneau and Eddie Smith took up the challenge and delivered in a big way.
The 5’ 10” point guard, Bonneau, took command of the offense and dictated the play for Windsor. Contradictory to London’s frantic play, Stefan slowed things down and wouldn’t be forced to change the game plan. He contributed 22 points on the night and went 10-11 from the line. With 3.3 seconds remaining in regulation time, Bonneau drew a foul and he calmly drained the two free throws to put Windsor ahead by a point. He also had 8 assists and 6 defensive rebounds. One of the assists was a late-game alley-oop to Kevin Loiselle that had the fans on their feet.
Former Lightning, Eddie Smith, was pumped to play against his old team. He led all scorers with 27 points, and won his on-going feud with his #23 counterpart Tim Ellis. The two could be seen throughout the game battling each other away from the ball.
While the referees allowed the sparing to go on, there were two controversial calls late in the 4th quarter that set the stage for overtime. A deflected ball was retrieved by Windsor in the backcourt and the team was called for “over and back”. While an offensive player cannot return to the defensive zone after crossing mid-court, they can if the ball has been pushed over by the opposing team. The call against the Express turned the ball over to London and, during a stoppage in play, Coach Jones could be seen explaining the rules to the ref.
The second controversial call put London’s Jermaine Blackburn at the foul line with 1.3 seconds left to play. Blackburn made the first basket to tie the game at 92, but missed the second attempt, forcing a 5 minute overtime period. President and CEO of the Express, Dartis Willis, was seen on his cell phone after the call was made. He wouldn’t have been unjustified had he been calling the league president.
With the clock running down in overtime, Windsor had built a six point lead when Morgan Lewis stepped to the line for London. His throws closed the gap to four points with less than a minute to play. The Express were able to extend play in the London zone when AJ Johnson grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Bonneau at the top of the key, and resetting the shot clock. Bonneau dished to Loiselle who was fouled while making the shot. With Windsor in font 108-104 with 2.1 seconds it was all but over. London then made a buzzer beating trey, but it was too little too late.
The win was the fifth in a row for the Express, matching their previous winning streak. It has placed the team in third place over all, two games over .500 (20-18), and two games up on Moncton who have already completed their schedule. Windsor’s final two games of the season are next Friday and Saturday night when they host Saint John and Oshawa respectively.