By Chris Illich
Following a three game road trip that saw them go 1-2, the Niagara River Lions (3-7) stormed into the Meridian Centre on Wednesday January 20 for their game against the London Lightning (7-2), but ultimately lost the contest 113-107.
Part of the reason for the loss was the team went 2 for 16 behind the three-point line in the second half. Something River Lions’ guard Marcus Lewis (6’5” – 10 points, 4 rebounds) attested to.
“Close ones like that we just have to hit shots. We were 2 for 16 for three in the second half and I missed a lot of free throws and a couple people missed the first half of their bonus free throws,” he said.
“It came down to not finishing shots. If we had finished shots and made free throws, we would have won that game by a landslide.”
Forward Da’Quan Cook (6’8” – 13 points, 4 rebounds) echoed Lewis’ statement. “Our defense wasn’t good enough (The River Lions rank first in the NBL for most defensive rebounds at 35.7/per game). London is a good team. We let them get that confidence going and they were knocking down that three-point shot and unfortunately we weren’t knocking down that three in the second half tonight.”
After leading 29-24 after the first quarter, the River Lions held strong and built up momentum with a game-high 13 point lead at 43-30 while shooting 5 for 11 beyond the arc, and putting up 30 points in the paint through the first half – by half time, the gritty affair was tied at 52-52.
While the London Lighting were down for a good part of the first half, it seemed like they never gave up. While the River Lions held a 81-77 lead at the end of the third quarter they couldn’t hold it until the end, eventually losing 113-107.
Forward Billy Rush (6’6” – 5 points, 5 rebounds) made his debut this evening (and slammed down a perfect alley oop at 1:53, below), and even though forward Logan Stutz (6’9”) had a standout game with 30 points and 10 Rebounds (which added to his No.1 ranked status with 270 points at a rate of 27/per game) they couldn’t keep up with the Central Division Leaders.
After returning from their road-trip out east, the River Lions seemed excited to be home in their building, even though their trip out east had them only win 1 of 3. The team seemed energized and enthusiastic, and seemed more cohesive as a whole on the court.
“That trip really strengthened our chemistry, staying tight while we were all stuck in the hotel together. It was a good test of how strong we are as a team. We split the one and two on the road, and it would have been good to come out with two of them. It definitely made us stronger as a team,” Lewis said.
Even though the River Lions lost the game, there were positives to take away from their efforts. They stayed neck and neck with a top team, and showed how much potential the River Lions possess. They could be contenders in the MBL – they already have the top scorer in Stutz – and hopefully fans start to realize what they have here in St. Catharines. An estimated 1000 fans were in attendance, a small cry from the sold-out audience of their home opener.
“I feel like every game we play at home the crowd gets to know us more and more as both a team and as individuals. I feel it makes a way better atmosphere every game,” said Lewis.
“Tonight, the crowd was great. They were definitely in the game, and they gave us a lot of energy,” said Cook. “Hopefully we just get more people coming out and our fans keep on returning.”