The London Lightning and the Niagara River Lions are both heading into their 7th game in the young 2015-16 season in the NBL Canada, but the occasion marks the third meeting between the two teams in the early parts of the year.
They took part in a home-and-home series to open the year, with each team winning in their respective home openers. London took the first game of the season, 122-109, but the River Lions would get their revenge the next night.
In the home opener for the expansion River Lions, a buzzer-beating three sent Niagara to their first win in the league, a 106-104 win over the Lightning. It sent the crowd into a frenzy at the Meridian Center, and showed that the team was for real.
Thursday night provides each team with an opportunity for some more momentum as the season moves along. London is looking to win their second straight contest, while the River Lions are looking to bounce back from a loss to the Windsor Express in their last outing.
A stop in London is the second stop for the River Lions on their four-game road swing, and they’re looking for a win before they head out East for the first time this season.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of tonight’s showdown between the Lightning and the River Lions.
Projected Starting Lineups
London Lightning (4-2)
G: Nick Okorie (15.0 ppg, 4.0 apg)
G: Warren Ward (13.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
G: Garrett Williamson (13.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
F: Stephen Maxwell (17.5 ppg, 11.7 rpg)
F: Chad Posthumus (11.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
Niagara River Lions (2-4)
G: Sammy Zeglinski (19.2 ppg, 9.7 apg)
G: Adam Blazek (12.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
G: Clinton Springer-Williams (10.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
F: Da’Quan Cook (10.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg)
F: Logan Stutz (26.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg)
Keys to Victory
For the visiting Niagara River Lions…
- Capitalize on missed free throws from the London Lightning. The Achilles heel for the Lightning has been their free throw shooting, as they are shooting below 70% as a team on the season. To make matters worse, Jeremy Wise, who is the Lightning’s best free throw shooter, is currently on the Injured Reserve.
- Win the battle on the glass. The River Lions are currently the top defensive rebounding team (34.7 rpg), and the second-best rebounding team overall (49.5 rpg) in the entire league. As for the Lightning, they rank near the bottom of the league in the same categories. They rank 6th in both total rebounds per game (47.0) and defensive rebounds per game (33.0). If Niagara can capitalize on their rebounding abilities, and get some second-chance opportunities on offense, they’ll be in a great position to score the win.
- Take the crowd out of it early. In the first game of the season, Logan Stutz was successful in taking the crowd out of the game in the early going. Having been a former Lightning player, he instantly became the villain in the eyes of the crowd. If the team can get off to a hot start, and take control of the momentum early, it will put them in a good position. But, it’s all about maintaining that over the course of the game. London’s fan are a loud bunch on every single night, and it will be extremely tough to keep them quiet for the entire game.
For the host London Lightning…
- The three-point shot will be critical to the Lightning’s success, on both ends of the floor. As a team on offense, the Lightning are the top team in the league in terms of three point shooting percentage, making a 42.6% of their attempts from beyond the arc. Tyshawn Patterson (45.1%) and Warren Ward (45.7%) lead the way for the Lightning from beyond the arc, who have a total of 5 players shooting better than 33.3% from long distance on the year (min. 10 attempts). On defense, they have the best three point defense, holding teams to just 31.3% shooting. If they can make the long ball, and keep the shooters of the River Lions under wraps, London could break the game wide open.
- Utilize their depth to mix things up and create match-up problems for the River Lions. The Lightning have one of the deepest rosters in the league, even with Wise and Kevin Loiselle currently on the Injured Reserve. When they went down with injury, the Lightning activated Canadian Taylor Black and added Akeem Wright to their roster, and kept on ticking. With so many capable players on their bench, Coach Julius can roll guys in and out of the lineup to get a fresh look, and that could go a long way come Thursday night.
- Get the ball inside and let the London forwards go to work. The Lightning are the more athletic team of the two, and that could lead to some opportunities in the paint. With the strong shooters that the Lightning have in the back court, the River Lions may focus on them a little more, opening things up in the paint. If the likes of Stephen Maxwell, Chad Posthumus, and Curtis Washington can attack the forwards of the River Lions and get them to commit some fouls, that will open the floor for the guards to get open and hit some open shots.
Player Match-Up to Watch
Niagara’s Sammy Zeglinski v. London’s Nick Okorie
The former NCAA stars will go head-to-head at the point guard spot, and the match-up could go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
Last time out for the Lightning, Okorie made his long-awaited season debut against the Orangeville A’s. He was immediately inserted in the starting lineup, and poured in 15 points in his first game. He did go 0-of-3 from three point range, but there shouldn’t be any cause for concern. Okorie is a strong shooter of the ball, and is more than capable of making three-pointers on any given night. Once he shakes off the rust, it should be all systems go for the former Texas Tech guard.
On Thursday, he will be tasked with keeping sharp-shooter Sammy Zeglinski under wraps. Zeglinski, who played for the Virginia Cavaliers in his collegiate days, is one of the better three-point shooters in the league, shooting a shade under 39% from distance on the season. The guard play is going to be crucial for both teams on Thursday, and Zeglinski v. Okorie will be one of the top battles to watch.
Fortunately for London, they also have the likes of Patterson, Ward, and Jordan Weidner who can lead things from the back end, which will make things harder for Zeglinski and the River Lions on defense.
Whoever can win the battle of the guards will have a huge advantage in the game, and will likely be your winner.
London Lightning: 104
Niagara River Lions: 93