(WINDSOR, ON) – After splitting a 2-game road trip to St John’s during the week, the Windsor Express were looking to get back into their winning ways. But, they were scheduled to meet the Niagara River Lions last night, a team who has dominated Windsor for 3 wins this season. The last meeting between the two clubs went to overtime so fans were in for what promised to be a competitive matchup.
The game pace started slow as the teams shook off the cold of the arena. Logan Stutz put up the first points for Windsor and fans were treated to a Chad Frazier layup in transition and a Demontre Harris putback above the rim. Niagara was equal to the task and matched Windsor’s output.
By the end of the 1st quarter the teams had crept their way to a 22-19 Express lead on a Frazier triple at the buzzer. Making his first home court appearance for Windsor in the quarter was Omar Strong, newly acquired from the River Lions.
“Omar Strong is a veteran in this league,” said Windsor head coach Bill Jones. “He didn’t shoot the ball as well as I’m sure he expected, but he’s a capable shooter who’s able to stretch the defense when he’s out there.” Strong picked up 16 points on the night, coming off the bench for Windsor.
Frazier’s trey, the only one for Windsor in the 12 minutes, was his 11th point of the opening period, far in the lead of all shooters. CJ Aiken picked up 5 for Niagara and Windsor’s Eric Parker dropped 4 off the bench. The Lions shot a lowly 35% from the floor while the Express countered with 43.8%.
Windsor and Niagara continued their horse race into the 2nd period as they matched 5 points out of the gate. The River Lions turned up the heat on Windsor and pushed in front 35-33 as both sides forgot about defense. Shaquille Keith tied the game at 41 with a floor-extending bucket and Anthony Ottley Jr found pay dirt on a setup by Maurice Jones.
During the frenzied output, Niagara edged in front 53-49 necessitating a timeout called by Jones. By half time, the Lions enjoyed a 57-51 margin as the teams went to the dressing rooms.
Niagara’s Carl Hall picked up 12 2nd quarter points while Windsor countered with 6 from Ottley and 5 from Jones. The difference was the Lions moving to 80% shooting in the period on 16-for20 from the floor.
“In that 2nd quarter we gave up 38 points,” said Coach Jones. “We talked to them at the half and told them what we thought they needed to do to get themselves back in it. They cut down on the easy baskets in transition and then they started playing tough basketball.”
The River Lions took control at the beginning of the 3rd quarter and ran out to an 9-point lead before the period was 3 minutes old. Little by little the Express began to claw their way back into the game and never let Niagara dominate at either end of the court. Stutz contributed 8 points toward Windsor’s comeback, and Strong dropped 10 as the Express wouldn’t say die.
By the buzzer, Niagara and Windsor were where they were at the beginning of the game; all tied up. Going into the 4th period knotted at 83, the fans were solidly behind the home team and hopeful for their first win over the Lions.
Express mainstay Parker targeted two long balls to open the final frame, much to the fans approval. Those points were equaled by Niagara and the two sides careened headlong neck and neck.
“We saluted Erik in the locker room today,” Jones said. “His number was called today for 27 minutes and he had 21 points. He had his best game as a Windsor Express.” Parker had the game high in points for the Express and shot 10-for-12 from the floor and the line combined, including 3-3 from beyond the arc.
“I’ve been putting in the work to stay ready to shoot the shots so I feel confident to take them, and I made them,” said Parker.
The audience were particularly upset with a foul called against the Express under the Windsor net. Boos rained down on the officiating crew and helped to win a call the other way a minute later.
Niagara was first to 100, but only by a point. Another layup established a 3-point cushion for the Lions at a media timeout with 5:16 to play. The scoring dried up without notice for over a minute until Ottley found a second chance pair. When Stutz hit from downtown, the teams were again even at 104.
Keith split a pair from the penalty stripe to put Windsor in front 110-109. Hall returned the favour to tie it up again. Then Stutz followed suit to put Windsor into a single point lead with 1:06 on the clock. Coming back from a timeout, the fans were on the edge for the finale.
Connor Wood rimmed a three-point attempt but Windsor couldn’t capitalize. The Express got the ball back when Adam Klie ran the rock out of touch. Another timeout with 10.6 seconds on the clock. Frazier dropped a freebie when running out the clock and despite a valiant return by Niagara the margin remained 112-110 for the Express.
In town to watch the game last night was former stalwart Express shooting guard Stefan Bonneau. It’s no secret that the Express are seriously looking at Bonneau to return to the club.
“We want to get him acclimated to what we’re doing,” said Jones. “We want to make sure he’s healthy. Give him a physical the first of the week. And hopefully he’s as special as he was when he left us.”
Bonneau has most recently been playing in Cyprus and in Iceland, where he was compared to soccer great Lionel Messi. If Bonneau is added to the Express roster he’ll be joining Maurice Jones, Braylon Rayson, and Omar Strong in the guard position.
“You can never have enough shooters,” Jones said. “If we have to go out there and play four small guys and one big, to be able to make shots, we’ll figure out a defensive scheme to be able to allow them to play and not be in mismatches.”