by Brett Hedges
The Lance – Sports Editor
The Windsor Express basketball team fell to 6-8 in the NBL Canada regular season after a pair of fourth quarter scoring woes led to losses on the road and on home court this past week.
First, the Express traveled to St. Catharine’s to battle the Niagara River Lions on the road at the Meridian Centre Jan. 28 and ran into a red hot Clinton Springer-Williams who lit up Windsor for 38 points and knocked down 10 threes in a 108-97 victory. Looking for redemption the following night back at the WFCU Centre, the Express battled back from a sizable deficit in the first half only to fall short to the Atlantic division’s Island Storm in the final minute, 100-94.
Express rookie Shaquille Keith had his second best performances this season against the Storm with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Brampton native said the losses have been tough but at the end of the day as professionals the Express need to be able to make plays down the stretch.
“We just need to go back to practice and work on our weaknesses and we need to come back and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Keith said. “Making plays down the stretch can be a collective thing and sometimes it can be an individual thing but as pros we just need to be ready for the next game.”
Windsor played even with the host River Lions through three quarters with the score tied 75-75. Windsor took a brief 79-78 lead early in the fourth but was outscored 34-23 in the final frame of a 109-98 loss, their second setback to the NBL’s newest franchise this season.
Springer-Williams shot 12-15 from the field in his breakout game while Logan Stutz, the league’s third highest scorer and second highest rebounder, returned from injury and contributed 17 points, five boards and five assists to help push Niagara’s record to 4-9.
Chris Commons led the Express with 23 points while guards Tony Bennett and Brandon Robinson both finished with 18 points.
The next night the Storm got some key performances throughout their lineup and got double-double performances from forward Nick Evans and Brian Addison in a big road win at the WFCU Centre Jan. 29. a few days after head coach Joe Salerno signed a pair of free agents in veteran scorer Morgan Lewis and savvy point guard Josiah Turner.
Lewis played a limited role but has the potential to drop 30-plus points per night when he gets in a rhythm. Turner threaded the needle on multiple occasions from the point in the contest on his way to a game-high eight assists to go along with eight points and seven rebounds.
“We needed this and a lot of guys stepped up for us,” Salerno said. “We need it for some confidence, we were lacking some after the way we had played so we added some talent. We needed some guys to make some shots and we’re still missing a piece or two to make another run at the finals but that’s a long way away and I certainly like where we are at moving forward.”
Windsor started the game off with a 6-0 run but the Storm rumbled back to match that run and finished the quarter up a cool dozen points over the two-time defending league champions.
Windsor went on a 7-0 run midway through the second to trim their deficit to six and the Island took a 53-46 lead into halftime. With less than three minutes left in the third Express guard Robinson hit a jump shot to tie the game 71-71 and trailed the Island by one point headed into the final frame.
Both teams scratched and clawed on every possession in the fourth quarter but after Keith hit two free throws to tie the game 94-94 with less than one minute to play, Windsor would score no more. Storm guard Rashad Whack knocked down a pair of insurance markers in the dying seconds to round out a 100-94 road win and move up to 5-8 on the season.
Brent Jennings finished the game with a game-high 27 points for the Storm and added seven assists to go along with the impact from forwards Evans who had 20 points and 10 rebounds while Addision’s put up 17 points and hauled down 16 rebounds. The 6’11” forward Evans said it was a humongous game for the Storm after the organization had cut ties with six players prior to making the Ontario road trip and admitted the team put their foot on their gas pedal from the opening tip.
“We had to come out and execute and it felt like to come out and play as a group,” Evans said. “This a professional gig and nobody’s meals are promised so you have to go out and earn them. After bringing in the talented players we did we just went out and had fun. With Windsor it is always a tough battle, it’s gritty out there on that court and it feels good to pull that one out.”
Commons once again led Windsor with a double-double performance of his own with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Robinson remains dropped 20 points, six boards and four dimes. Robinson and Commons sit in first and third in league scoring.
The Express will now participate in their third annual showcase game at Caesar’s Windsor Feb. 3 against their rival London Lightning, who are the top-ranked team in the league. The Clash at the Colosseum III brings NBL Canada action to the downtown core and is expected to have close to 3,000 fans in attendance for another piece of history for professional basketball in Canada.