by Brett Hedges
The Lance – Sports Editor
Two big additions to the Windsor Express roster helped snap the two-time defending NBL Canada champions back into their winning ways to begin 2016.
After failing to score 100 points in their first two games, the Express signed Brandon Robinson – the NBL’s second all-time leading scorer – and also saw guard Tony Bennett come back to the team from a suspension incurred last season. The two star guards were thrust into the spotlight right away and they shone bright for the Express over a three-day span which saw Windsor defeat the Orangeville A’s, Niagara River Lions and the London Lightning – all within a 48 hour span.
Over the three-game stretch, Robinson average over 25 points per contest and hit key shot after key shot to keep the Express offense on track and paced them to the top of the NBL’s central division at 3-2.
“I’m just happy to be here and contribute to wins, the expectations are high” Robinson said. “Coach puts us all in a position to be great and he just lets us do what we need to do as professionals. I’ve proven myself in this league, I’ve been here since it started and now I’m just glad to be here in Windsor.”
Prior to the weekend grind, Express interim head coach Tony Jones addressed the importance of these stretch of games to his team during a practice after the 0-2 start and said he drew back on his experience as a college coach at Tennessee and Auburn to try and approach the three-game stretch as if it were a tournament.
“I told them we can ascend to the top of the league by winning these three games in a row,” Jones said. “They’ve played preseason tournaments and postseason tournaments where you have to play three games to win a championship. I told them let’s win each game and get back in this division.”
Windsor battled Orangeville on New Year’s Day and Robinson was impressive for the Express in his debut scoring 21 points to go along with seven assists and four rebounds in a 111-94 victory over the A’s on their home court at the Athlete Institute Jan.1.
Three other Windsor Express players scored in double-digits as Chris Commons scored a game-high 22 points while Bennett and Adrian Moss scored 20 and 19, respectively. The 5’8” guard Moss also grabbed a game-high total of nine rebounds while Commons and Shane Ross hauled down six rebounds each.
The next night in Windsor, the River Lions visited the WFCU Centre for the first time as the league’s newest franchise. The Express needed all of the firepower they could muster as Niagara boasted two of the top-five scorers in the league in Logan Stutz and Sammy Zeglinski who average over 28 points per game. The game was a offense-filled thriller from tip to finish and Robinson was the man controlling the pulse.
In his debut game in front of Windsor fans, Robinson scored 35 points and added seven assists. Also having huge offensive performances were Express veterans Commons and Bennett, who both scored 29. Niagara’s big two burned the Express defense for a combined 60 points but after a tightly-contested fourth quarter and multiple foul shots in the waning minutes, Zeglinki’s three-pointer to tie the game at the buzzer was short. Windsor took the 118-115 decision to earn their first victory at the WFCU Centre this season.
“It’s not the x’s and o’s, it’s the Jimmy’s and Joe’s – or the Tony’s and Brandon’s,” Jones said. “Those guys help our basketball, especially on the offensive end. Those guys have a skill set that really fits my philosophy.”
A date with their rivals from London at Budweiser Gardens loomed a mere 16 hours later as the Lightning hosted Windsor for an afternoon contest Feb. 3. Fatigue was evident in the game’s first half, as both teams had played the night before. Windsor trails 52-43 at halftime but stormed back in the third quarter and outscored London 25-19 to take an 11-point edge into the final frame. A back-and-forth battled ensued throughout the last 12 minutes of action but needed the final moments to declare a winner.
With the game tied at 91-91 in the final 20 seconds, Windsor’s newest acquisition made another game huge impact by crossing over his defender and knocking down a three-point shot with 10 seconds to go. London pushed the ball up court Tyshawn Patterson’s long ball rimmed out and the Express took a 94-91 win back to the Rose City.
“It’s an unbelievable turnaround … and that’s tough on the athletes but we have some athletes who have some pride,” Jones said. “You have to play who’s on your schedule no matter where they are at and what time they say the game is. We’ll show up and compete, Windsor Express basketball always does. We’re still a work in progress but we are going to get a lot better.”
The Express now play consecutive games against the River Lions, beginning with Windsor’s first visit to St. Catharine’s for a battle at the Meridian Centre Jan. 5. The back-end of the home-and-home set concludes Jan. 10 at the WFCU Centre with tip-off at 2 p.m.