(WINDSOR, ON) – From the opening whistle, the NBLC’s Windsor Express played with a sense of urgency to stave of elimination and a 3-0 clean sweep of their 2017-18 play-off campaign. But, try as the did, it was not enough to deflect the St John’s Edge from cutting their play-off run short with a 117-124 defeat in front of their die hard home town fans last night at the WFCU Arena.
But, the ball was not tossed up, nor the Canadian anthem sung, until after the announcer Mark Knight called for 15 blows of the game horn and a moment of silence in memory of each of the deceased victims of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus crash in Saskatchewan.
While most of the Express players understandably refused comment immediately after the game, team president Dartis Willis simply said, “We played okay, but we’re still missing a couple pieces,” reflecting upon the tough loss.
However, after one quarter of play, the Express talent pool and game strategy appeared to be working quite well as they enjoyed a hard earned 33-24 advantage, mainly on the strength of 56% (14-25) scoring in the short range field, and 50% (4-8) from 3-point range.
Express guard Maurice Jones lead all scorers in the initial segment with 11 points followed by teammate Logan Stutz, who had 8 points.
The scoring early on was accentuated by two slam dunks by #44 Damonte Harris, who established a very physical presence down low in the key to anchor Windsor’s defense.
Comparatively, the Edge shot 53% (8-15) below the arc and 40% (2-5) above in that same time frame. Yet, in the 2nd quarter, they improved those percentages and ratios to 66.7% (14-21) and 100% (5-5) respectively, verses Windsor’s 38.5% (5-13) and 42.9% (3-7) slip.
This allowed St Johns to get within 1 point, 58-59, at the half.
At the start of the all important 3rd quarter, the Edge successfully established a tempo more to their liking by attacking the basket off the dribble. It was good enough for a 68-64 lead approaching the mid point of the period. However, with 5:52 remaining, the combative teams were knotted at 76 points a piece.
Surprisingly, the Edge exploded for a 26-10 run to close out the quarter and finished up 102-76, going into the final segment. Six rough and tumble minutes later, with the crowd trying to boisterously rally the hometown Express, it was 116-105 for the visitors.
After a couple defensive stands, and a buck by Stutz and then Braylon Rayson, the Express were only down 7 points with 4 minutes to play, and neither team was in the bonus. Another stop and a 3-pointer by Chad Frazier made it 116-112 for only a 2-possession game.
Two unanswered Edge buckets in transition later, and St John’s had a 122-113 commanding lead with only 60 seconds left. One tally by the Edge and two by the Express ended Windsor’s season, 124-117.
Despite the loss the Express received one last standing ovation from their loyal fans and community partners for their gallant effort, on the night and on the season. Six Windsor players scored in double figures in a very balanced and impressive attacked, lead by Maurice Jones’ 37-point outburst.
Shaquille Keith and Stutz both finished with 19 points, followed by Rayson, Frazier, and Sefton Barrett, who scored 15, 14, and 10 points, respectively.
Conversely, six players also scored in double figures for the maritime visitors, 4 of them with 20 plus points lead by starters Charles Hinkle and Carl English.
Considering the Edge finished with an astonishing 68.7% efficiency from 2-point range, 61.9% from 3-point range, and 100% from from the free throw line, the Express’ 7-point loss was ironically a bright spot for their future prospects.
For now, however, they can only look on as their 1st place Central Division rival, the London Lightning, battle to subdue the 4th place Niagara River Lions, whom they lead 2-1 in the best-of-5-series. The winner will face the Edge in the next round.