(WINDSOR, ON) – After waiting a full seven days since their last start, the Windsor Express welcomed over 1,500 fans to the WFCU Arena for their 2017-18 home opener. Riding the wave of a 116-97 win over the Kitchener-Waterloo Titans on the road a week ago, the Express were looking forward to hosting the visiting Halifax Hurricanes.
“I’m never happy until we get to a full stadium,” said Windsor’s president and CEO Dartis Willis. “This is an important year, so I’m hoping that the people recognize that we have to increase the fan base and to do that the team has to work hard.”
And work hard last night, they did. Though the Canes dropped a bucket off the opening tipoff, it was another couple of minutes before the second score, again for Halifax. Not until Devin White hit a triple at 8:40 did the Express finally find their scoring touch. The crowd came alive when point guard Braylon Rayson connected for two from downtown on two trips up the floor.
The two sides traded baskets to the end of the quarter as the Express enjoyed a single point lead, 24-23. Rayson and forward Logan Stutz led Windsor through the first 12 minutes with 6 points apiece and Stutz picking up a further 4 rebounds.
Into the 2nd quarter, newcomer Michael Acheampong spearheaded the Express offense coming off the bench, putting up six early points and forcing a time out by the Hurricanes. With the lead bulged to 5, Halifax head coach Mike Leslie wanted to get out in front the run. It didn’t work as Stutz fought for two more scores from inside the paint. While some players drop long range shot, Stutz battles inside, earning every point.
“We’ve got the best two guys [Maurice Jones and Rayson] who are outside shooters and that’s their jobs, and my job is when I get in the paint to shoot in the paint, and that’s what they want me to do,” Stutz said. “We know each other’s jobs, now it’s really about making sure everybody is doing it to the best of their ability and helping them do it to the best of their ability.”
With exactly 3 minutes left on the clock, a second Halifax timeout was precipitated by 7 Windsor points, including a trey from forward Devin White. After those final 180 seconds counted down, the Express had run to a 14 point lead and headed to the dressing room out in front 55-41.
The 2nd half opened with a decidedly slower pace and tempo. Still, the Express slowly built their margin to 71-58 after a quiet 9 minutes. When Stutz and CJ Washington got tangled under the basket, both Leslie and Windsor head coach Bill Jones entered the fray on behalf of their players. The crowd came alive to help wake up the teams and Halifax finished off the quarter by narrowing the Windsor lead to just 6 points, 74-68.
The Hurricanes could smell the blood in the water and came out to start the 4th with full pressure against the Windsor point guards, Rayson and Jones. Five points by Stutz calmed down Halifax and helped to push the Express over the 80-point mark.
Halifax continued to chip away at the Windsor lead and drew within 2 of the Express. A White miss from outside was picked up by Stutz for 2 and the foul, which he deposited to the gratitude of the audience. Two more from the line by Stutz established a 10-point lead with just over 3 minutes left to play.
Despite a late surge by Halifax, Windsor barred any thought to giving up the lead and ran out the clock for a 108-94 win.
“When you talk about scoring 100 points and keeping the [other] team under 100, statistically and mathematically you win,” Bill Jones said after the game. “That’s what we’ve been doing, that’s what the mentality has been in training camp, and these guys have done in the first two games.”
Stutz was credited with a game-high 30 points for the Express while White recorded a second double-double with 17 points and 14 boards. Jones also made the double-double the hard way with 15 points and 10 assists.
The Express are back on the court Sunday as they travel to St Catharines to meet the 1-0 Niagara River Lions at 2pm.
“It’s a quick turn around [today] against a tough team in Niagara,” Jones said. “The opponent is ourselves and we have to go out there and play to the best of our ability.”