Three overtime contests this past week
By José Colorado
For a season that began with a singular dominant force in the Moncton Magic, week nine exemplified just how far the pendulum has swung since.
Perennial bottom-dwellers, Windsor Express, Saint John Riptide and the Island Storm, stunned its superiors by going a combined 7-1 (win-loss) for the week with each club putting together some form of a season-best streak in the process.
Meanwhile the league's top four ranking clubs – the Moncton Magic, Cape Breton Highlanders, St. John's Edge and KW Titans – went a pedestrian 3-3.
Bad teams breed inconsistency so one would be hard-pressed to know whether this was simply a blimp on the radar or a change for the better.
But regardless, for one week the role reversals made for some fascinating viewing as the week launched into a new era.
1. St. John's Edge (11-6)
LW RANK: 1 | LW Record: N/A | Upcoming Schedule: London (Twice)
Winners of 10 of its last 11 games, an inactive week certainly shouldn't drop the Edge from the top spot.
Two very winnable games wait at home this week with the London Lightning rolling into town.
And with the team having (in theory) 12 days of available practice time, some new wrinkles could be added into Doug Plumb's system when fans pack Mile One Centre on Jan.19.
2. Cape Breton Highlanders (14-7)
LW RANK: 4 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @Kitchener-Waterloo, Saint John
An undermanned Highlanders squad got off to a solid start on its four-game Ontario road swing as it went 2-1 this past week, playing three games in four nights.
Sans Deshaunt Walker and new addition Mike Glover, Cape Breton fell to the surging Express 108 -104 on Jan.9.
With Glover then making his debut the next night the club rebounded against the Lightning (129 – 122) and then dispatched of the Sudbury Five (121 – 116) on Jan. 12.
As a whole the Highlanders –already amongst the league-leaders in many offensive categories – played exceptionally well in its attack as it went 34-of-81 from three-pointers (42 per cent) while marching to the free-throw line 89 in its trio of matches, making 72 (81 per cent).
Then there's Bruce Massey.
So long as the scoring dynamo is in the Highlanders' lineup the club will have a chance to win.
This past week he dropped two 40-plus point games, averaging 35.33 points, seven rebounds, 6.33 assists and three steals on 55.22 per cent shooting.
Similar to the Sampson Carter situation on the Island, Highlanders' management mustn't waste such a special season and should do everything in their power to go all in around the MVP candidate sooner rather than later.
3. KW Titans (8-7)
LW RANK: 2 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Cape Breton, London, Windsor
An abnormally woeful shooting night from long distance halted the Titans win streak at five games as the club fell 105 – 104 to the Riptide on Jan.10 at the Auditorium.
Despite being the league's second-best offensive club at 112.6 points per game and fourth best in three-point percentile shooting (36.8 per cent),KW tanked from deep pelting blanks via a three-of-21 (14.3 per cent) shooting rate - nearly seven makes below their season average.
Had the Titans been able to connect on even a few more it would have likely been a different story as the see-saw match saw nine ties and 13 lead changes.
Nonetheless it is far from panic – or concern - time as Cavell Johnson's roster still has three more local bouts remaining on its current six-game stand – a sentiment echoed by team leader Joel Friesen.
Winners don't win every game, but they show you what they're made of after a loss. That WE can maintain a winning mentality. I trust my coaches and teammates from 1-12 and that's a fact. ��— Joel Friesen (@jf_hoops) January 11, 2019
4. Moncton Magic (13-7)
LW RANK: 3 | LW Record: 1-1 | Upcoming Schedule: The Island
Has there ever been a NBLC fall from grace as swift as the Magic's over the past month?
Losers of seven of its last 10 games, the formerly dominant team hit rock bottom this past week when they were blown out the waters 108 – 91 against the last-seeded Storm, then losers of 10 straight, on Jan.11.
That may have been the wake-up call the club needed however as the Magic rebounded the very next night against an improved Halifax Hurricanes roster in a thrilling 114 – 111 come-from-behind road victory.
The latter win brings with it some serious moxie as the 'Canes led by 12 points with just 3:23 to go in the fourth quarter before Moncton rallied for the improbable overtime win.
With the club only suiting up once (Jan. 18) in the next 15 days, the Magic either have plenty of practice time for fine-tuning or a decent window for management to seriously consider outside solutions.
5. Windsor Express (8-8)
LW RANK: 8 | LW Record: 3-0 | Upcoming Schedule: @Sudbury, @Kitchener-Waterloo
Another trio of wins means another step forward and a deserved leap in the rankings for the Express.
Holding a 3-0 record for the week, Windsor has now won six of its last seven games and must be considered one of the NBLC's most dangerous teams right behind the Edge and Titans.
The league's best three-point shooting team lived up to its billing this past as the club went a combined 28 –of- 71 (39.43 per cent) from downtown in its matches –eclipsing its 37.3 per cent seasonal average.
Whether Windsor's new found mojo is simply a flash in a pan or not will immediately be tested however as six of its next seven games will be on the road.
6. Sudbury Five (9-10)
LW RANK: 7 | LW Record: 0-1 | Upcoming Schedule: Windsor, @Halifax
It was a frustrating week for the Five as the team dropped its lone match in a 121 – 116 home loss to the Highlanders on Jan. 12 - sinking the franchise below the .500 mark for the first time ever.
The loss encapsulated Sudbury's recent struggles as the inaugural club has now lost five of its last six outings.
In a typical Sudbury 'shoot-em-up' style of game, both teams sizzled from the floor hitting 110-plus points on 45 per cent shooting or above while connecting on at least 12 three-pointers each.
Ultimately the difference maker came down to the benches; the Five was outscored 52-29 in that department.
It wasn't all bad news however as scoring stud Jaylen Bland made a triumphant return to the lineup following a three game absence with 28 points (10-of-22 field goal shooting) and five rebounds.
With one more home game looming before a six-game road trip, it is imperative the Five take care of business against the Express on Thursday.
7. Halifax Hurricanes (9-10)
LW RANK: 5 | LW Record: 0-2 | Upcoming Schedule: Sudbury
A late-game collapse spelled disaster for the Hurricanes as the club conceded a 12-point lead to the Magic with 3:23 remaining in the fourth, eventually losing 114 -111 in overtime on Jan.12.
Worst yet, tired and dejected legs may have gotten the better of the club the following day as a 2:00PM matinee did no favours to Halifax.
The league-worst Island routed the 'Canes 118 -100 in a match Halifax never led.
If nothing else head coach Mike Leslie knows he's picked up his ace of spades in Terry Thomas as the new addition led the 'Canes in scoring in both matches, averaging 26 points (51.2 per cent field goal shooting) and 7.5 rebounds.
Yet no matter how one cuts it, week nine must be considered an abomination for a team that had been previously been trending upwards as winners of three straight.
Halifax gets bumped down a few notches.
8. London Lightning (8-11)
LW RANK: 6 | LW Record: 0-3 | Upcoming Schedule: @Kitchener-Waterloo, @St. John's (Twice)
Without its second leading scorer and best assist-man, Garret Williamson, leading the charge the Lightning floundered twice down the stretch this past week conceding two overtime losses in a 0-3 winless week.
Indeed with all things considered, London could have – and likely should have – come away with at least one, if not two victories especially when noting the Lightning's excellent floor game.
They only turned the ball over 10 times per outing – and that's including two overtimes.
However with London having to overcome 18 and 16 point deficits simply to make it competitive – as was the case against Cape Breton and Windsor - perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the club ran out of gas in the home stretch of all three matches.
The path to .500 doesn't get much easier for the two-time champs as they now head out on a tough three-game stretch against the Titans and Edge (twice).
9. Saint John Riptide (5-12)
LW RANK: 9 | LW Record: 2-1 | Upcoming Schedule: @The Island, @Cape Breton
The Riptide got off to a fabulous start in its current five-game road trip as it went 2-1 this past week beating the Titans (105-104, Jan.10) and Lightning (107-98, Jan.13.) but conceding to the Express (102-86, Jan.11).
The league's worst offensive team continued its hot streak as it eclipsed the 100-point barrier in two of its three matches – perhaps not be coincidence, resulting in two wins.
After only hitting the century mark three times in its first 11 games, the Riptide have eclipsed that total in four of its last six games, resulting in a renewed competitive spirit as three of its last four defeats have been within seven points or less.
If Saint John is to keep up with the pack, Frank Bartley must continue to play at his current First-Team NBLC level; the American averaged 25 points (53.06 per cent field goal shooting) and five rebounds for the week.
Another repeat week for Saint John should bump give them a rare bump up come week 10.
10. Island Storm (4-11)
LW RANK: 10 | LW Record: 2-0 | Upcoming Schedule: Saint John, @Moncton
Whether the Storm went winless the rest of the week or not, week nine had to be considered an immediate success as the club snapped its league-high 10-game losing streak on Jan. 11 against the Magic in a 108 – 91 win.
A slight personnel change both internally and externally did the trick as Robbie Robinson was inserted into the starting lineup while former Edge player, Guillaume Bouchard, was added to the mix.
Both played a pivotal role in the victory as Bouchard went for 18 points (six-of-10 field goal shooting) while Robinson tallied 16 points (six-of-eight field goal shooting) and five rebounds in lieu of Alex Campbell who – to his credit – was also solid despite the bench demotion with nine points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Riding high off that momentum the Storm also blew away the Hurricanes 118 – 100 on Jan. 13, marking the club's first consecutive win streak since Dec.1.
Given all the weeks of futility leading up to week nine, it's still not enough to move them up a spot.
But for one week the Storm sees sunshine on the Island.