December 26th serves as Boxing Day in Canada, which means a lot of shopping to most. It also marks the start of the IIHF World Juniors for others. But, what some may not know, it also marks the start of the National Basketball League of Canada regular season.
The league, which is entering its fifth season of existence, pushed the start of their season back to after Christmas due to weather conflicts for some teams on the East Coast. On Saturday, the regular season kicked off, and what a night it was.
The London Lightning opened the season at home against the newest team to the league, the Niagara River Lions. The River Lions are a new expansion team, while the Lightning have consistently been one of the top teams in the country in each of the first four years.
Niagara came ready to play in the opening quarter, but were unable to keep up with the Lightning over the course of the game. London used a big second quarter to propel them into the lead, and they slowly pulled away in the second half.
The London Lightning came away with the 122-109 victory in the season opener over the Niagara River Lions.
Despite Saturday night marking the first regular game for the Niagara River Lions, they showed no nerves early on. Forward Logan Stutz made his mark from the outset, scoring the first 8 points for the River Lions, and recording 10 before the first media timeout.
Former Morehead State star Chad Posthumus made his presence for the Lightning in the paint, scoring the team’s first 4 points of the season and pulling in rebounds from the start of the game.
Niagara would put the Lightning behind the 8-ball in the first quarter, stretching their lead to double-figures about halfway through the quarter.
London lacked energy and intensity in the opening quarter, but were lucky to be down by just 7 after the opening 12 minutes. Stephen Maxwell brought energy to the floor when he checked in, and the former Cal State Northridge star attacked the glass strong on both ends of the floor.
Slowly but surely, the home crowd was getting behind the Lightning, giving the momentum they needed to get take a lead of their own and hold onto it for the rest of the game. From fast break dunks from Marcus Capers to big time three pointers from hometown boy Warren Ward, the Lightning gave their fans plenty to cheer about on the night.
The Lightning took a 7-point lead at half time, at 61-54, and they never looked back from them on out.
As the game wore on, they would slowly build on their lead as the seconds ticked off the clock. Niagara scored the first two baskets of the second half to bring the deficit to just 3 points, but the Lightning wouldn’t be denied on their home court in the season opener.
Patterson and Ward would take over the game, seemingly scoring at will from long distance. Ward was left wide open on several occasion down the stretch, and made the River Lions pay by hitting nothing but net.
Credit Niagara for battling to the final buzzer against one of the league’s perennial powerhouse teams, but their best effort wasn’t quite good enough on this night. The London Lightning took home the 122-109 win in a high-scoring affair over the Niagara River Lions on Saturday night.
For the visiting Niagara River Lions, it was former-Washburn University star Logan Stutz who led the way. He played the role of villain in the contest, constantly getting booed by the Lightning fans. In the opening minutes of the game, Stutz hit a three-pointer in front of the London bench, and proceeded to blow smoke off his hand-pistol while staring down the Lightning bench. The crowd noticed, and let him hear it the rest of the night.
On the game, Stutz scored a team-high 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds for a nice season-opening double-double.
Sammy Zeglinski, formerly of the Virginia Cavaliers, chipped in with 24 points of his own, most of which came in garbage time when the game was out of reach for the River Lions. He showed great shooting range, connecting on some deep three-pointers in the loss.
For the River Lions, 9 of the 10 players who played in the contest recorded at least 2 points. Tramar Sutherland was the only player not to record a point in the game.
As for the hometown London Lightning, it was their hometown product who led the way. Warren Ward, who was born in London, Ontario, scored a game-high 31 points to lead the Lightning to victory. He was 11-of-23 from the floor, and 7-of-12 from three point range. Ward showcased his smooth jumper and his shooting range, and his ability to drive the lane and make baskets at the rim.
Forward Garrett Williamson had himself a productive night in the paint. The Canadian, who also played his college basketball at Saint Joseph’s, went 9-of-12 from the floor for 20 points on the night. Chad Posthumus added a double-double of 14 points and 18 rebounds in the victory.
Two players who made an impact in limited court time were Stephen Maxwell and Tyshawn Patterson. Maxwell recorded 9 points and 9 rebounds, including 4 offensive rebounds. He brought a level of intensity in the paint that was crucial to the Lightning overcoming the first quarter deficit.
As for Patterson, the former guard of the Stetson Hatters was effective from all over the floor in his NBL Canada debut. He went 8-of-10 from the floor, and 3-of-4 from three point range, for 22 points. The duo of Ward and Patterson were the best back court duo for the Lightning on Saturday.
While both teams have one game under their belts, there is a quick turnaround for both teams for their next game. The London Lightning (1-0) and the Niagara River Lions (0-1) will take to the court against each other on Sunday in the back end of a home-and-home series. They will travel to St. Catharines, ON for a 7pm tip-off inside the Meridian Centre for the River Lions’ home opener.
As the season progresses, we will be covering all London Lightning home games here at College Court Report! We will have recaps for each home contest, plus some behind-the-scenes pieces that will showcase former NCAA players, and how they are faring in the National Basketball League of Canada.