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Written by: Zach Dadson
The Niagara River Lions dropped their Friday night matchup in the Lions’ Den 96-82 to the Windsor Express. The loss drops the River Lions’ record to 9-19 and makes the remaining 12 regular season games all the more important as the team works to keep themselves in the playoff race.
Niagara started the game strong against Windsor jumping out to a first quarter lead buoyed by Logan Stutz who has been reminding River Lions’ fans exactly why he was the National Basketball League of Canada’s Most Valuable Player last season.
Stutz had 6 points and 4 rebounds in the first quarter and finished the night with 15 points and 9 rebounds.
Strong defense in the first quarter gave Niagara a 24-22 lead as they held the Express to just 9-23 FG in the frame.
The two teams traded leads in the second quarter but it was the River Lions that went into halftime with a 47-44 lead.
Unfortunately for the Niagara, the third quarter came back to haunt them for the second night in a row, this time allowing the Express to go on a 22-1 run and outscore the River Lions 30-14 in the quarter.
“They were offensively rebounding against us and we were never able to come back so we’re playing strong defense and forcing them to miss but they were grabbing the boards and then being able to score off of it which kept breaking our backs.” Head Coach Keith Vassell explained after the game.
The River Lions gave up 19 offensive rebounds on Friday night. Those offensive rebounds, combined with Niagara’s 20 turnovers allowed the Express to take 16 more shots than the River Lions.
Carl Hall, who finished the night with 13 points and 7 rebounds had a good night on both ends of the floor but was temporarily hampered midway through the third quarter after his glasses were knocked off his face and he was forced to play without them for over a minute of action.
“When they come off sometimes and the ref doesn’t call a foul, you’ve got to continue to play so I just tried to get back on defense, tried to make a play.”
Hall certainly made a play on defense despite having his vision temporarily hampered coming up with what’s quickly becoming known as a “Blind Block” on the defensive end.
Kirk Williams Jr scored 10 points and collected 11 rebounds against his former team on Friday night while Sam Muldrow finished the game with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Scoop Jardine did a good job facilitating the team’s offense scoring 7points, dishing out 6 assists and collecting 4 rebounds.
When Sammy Zeglinski originally went down with an injury it created an opportunity for back-up point guard Tyler Murray. Murray has made the most of his opportunity and it’s meant increased playing time, and chances to contribute under the team’s new Head Coach.
“In stretches we played together.” Murray reported after the game when asked to assess his team’s performance.
“We made some timely stops when we needed to but overall they got second chance points and that was a big killer for us. They got a lot of offensive rebounds which contributed to third, fourth chances.” Murray continued.
While the River Lions outscored the Express in three out of the game’s four quarters (including the fourth quarter) the strong offensive output by Windsor in the third put the game out of reach down the stretch.
“We’ve just got to do a better job at finishing games.” Hall said after the loss.
“We always start out pretty well but we’ve got to find a way to close it out. There are no excuses. We all have got to come together and just find a way to get it done.”
The River Lions are going to have to get it done on the road as they take on the KW Titans twice next week in Kitchener, ON with games on Tuesday March 28 and Saturday April 1. Niagara returns to the Lions’ Den on April 2 when they take on the Saint John Riptide in a matinee matchup at 2:00pm.