(WINDSOR, ON) – The Windsor Express were feverishly intent upon reversing their fortunes against the St John’s Edge at home St. Paddy’s Day. As on three previous occasions the Edge left town with the W. But as luck would have it Windsor had a different plan in mind for head coach Bill Jones’ birthday Saturday and they delivered in clovers.
It was firstly evident when Demontre Harris batted away an Edge attempt on an early possession. Then Maurice Jones knocked down a 3-pointer, picking up where he left off last night against Saint John, followed by a triple from Logan Stutz. Not to be left out of the game, Braylon Rayson dropped three under pressure from Alex Johnson.
“I kinda take what the defense gives me,” Jones said. “You give me a shot and I’ll knock it down.”
The Express, however, surrendered free trips to the line at a quickened pace, allowing St John’s to remain competitive. A fade by Shaquille Keith from the low post stretched Windsor’s early lead.
The crowd was brought to its feet, not by the presence of Deputy Commissioner Audley Stephenson, but by a steal by Jones who converted it to a fast break jam by Stutz. Still, only 5 points separated the Edge and Express as the clock counted down to the 3 minute mark. Each team scored 5 points before the horn sounded with Windsor leading 22-17 after one.
St John’s started off the 2nd quarter with 4 points before Chad Frazier dropped a trey and Rayson followed suit with a pair of 3-pointers. But the Edge continued to push forward and place the Express defense under pressure. St John’s managed to shave 2 points off the margin before Jones pulled down a rebound and sent Frazier for another breakaway layup. Frazier performed an encore with a triple from the top of the arc. Harris then set up Stutz in the paint just before the media timeout.
When play resumed Harris was on the receiving end of a dish from Rayson under the hoop for a two-handed slam, but had his pocket picked by Anthony Stover, a moment later. As the clock ticked down, Johnson put up a jumper to cut the Express lead to 47-39 at half time.
“The first and second quarter was pretty tough for us. We missed some key rebounds,” said Express assistant coach Aaron MacDonald. “The 3rd and fourth quarter we came back and competed at a high level, so I was happy with that.”
Windsor played their strongest 3rd quarter of the season and wouldn’t let past ghosts get a foothold in the present. Keith was a clear and present threat during the period as he scored 11 points in just 8 minutes and out shone Edge star Carl English. Harris was solid on defense as he pulled down 2 rebounds made a key steal down the stretch. As a result, the Express extended their lead by a point to 9, and led 69-60 heading into the final frame.
“We wanted to be physical with [English]. We wanted to stay sticky with him and not give him any open looks,” said Jones. “He’s a great scorer. He’s deadly. A guy who’s scored 58 points in this league. So, he was number 1 on our scouting report so we had Chad Frazier, Shaquille Keith, Sefton Barrett and Maurice Jones switching out to defend him. All-in-all the quartet did a heck of a job defending him.”
In the 4th, Johnson got the Edge back into the game with a pair of well placed triples. The crowd, however, rose jubilantly as one again when Frazier stole the ball and rolled a pass to Barrett who took it to the rim for two and a foul.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the play by Chad Frazier,” said Coach Jones. “I think that play was the play of the game for us. That play got our momentum going, got our bench involved, and got us the victory.”
The crowd was again on their feet moments later when Keith dropped a bomb from the side court to make it an 11-point spread.
The Express competently moved the ball with purpose and continued to apply the pressure to the Edge. Each minute saw another point added to their margin of victory until they were leading by 15 with 1:27 left to play. With a little over a minute to play, local product, Antoine Chandler and Mike Lucier entered the game for Windsor, much to the approval of the fans. Anthony Ottley Jr iced the cake for Windsor with a drive to complete the scoring.
“It was just great to get a team win. That’s all that really matters,” Chandler said. “Pushing toward the playoffs and moving up in the seeding. It’ll get better as we start clicking even more and get better defensively.”
Lucier concurred with Chandler’s assessment of the future prospect of the Express.
“The team is really coming together. The chemistry is getting a lot better,” he said. “I mean it shows on the court when we play together and move the ball.”
When the horn ended the game, Windsor claimed a 108-95 home and home victory them drew them ever closer to the Edge in the standings.
“This is what we can expect down the stretch, and more,” MacDonald said. “We have very high expectations of the group we have now and they’re starting to gel together at the right time. They’re trying to compete at a high level. I’m very happy with the direction we’re going right now.”
The Express (19-16) are 7-3 in their last 10 games with five regular season matches remaining. They’ll start with a Friday home tilt against Kitchener-Waterloo, who have been eliminated from the post-season and are just playing for pride.
On Sunday Windsor hosts the 1st place London Lightning and will be looking to cover ground in the standings. Currently 3 games behind the front-runners, the Express are still mathematically able to overtake both London and St John’s, but can’t rely on other teams to do the work.
Heading down the stretch run, the Express have some injuries to sort out before the post season play begins.
“Omar [Strong] is battling a [lower body] injury and we don’t know when he is going to be available for us,” said Coach Jones. “Kevin [Loiselle] hurt his [upper body] yesterday and was stiff this morning so we elected to sit him. The philosophy the Windsor Express has is, ‘The Next Man Up.’ That’s what we look to do.”
Windsor is enjoying a modest 2-game win streak, but has won 7 of their last 10. Jones has a plan to keep the momentum going over the next six days before their next game.
“We’ll stay in the gym, we’ll do light stuff and things we need to work on,” he said. “We need to work on our blocking out and also our pick and roll coverage. We’ll do that. We’ll keep everybody sharp to play Friday and next Sunday to end our home stand for the season.”
One of the keys to Windsor’s recent success has been the addition of Sefton Barrett and Kevin Loiselle.
“Sefton and Kevin Loiselle have been two pleasant surprises for us because they can defend and they play with toughness,” Jones said. “That’s what we were lacking early on in the season. Guys who were 6’ 6”, 6’ 7” and being able to guard multiple positions and being able to do special things for us.”