Wednesday night’s tilt between the visiting Niagara River Lions and the host London Lightning was a signature event for both sides.
For the hometown Lightning, they honoured one of the top athletes in the world to come out of London when they hosted Damian Warner night inside Budweiser Gardens. Warner is one of the marquee names in the world of decathlons, and looks like a top threat to win a gold medal come Rio 2016.
On the flip side, the River Lions were being led by a new head coach on the bench. Grâce Lokole was named the interim head coach after Ken Murray was relieved of his duties just days earlier. Lokole has an extensive background in the game of basketball, but coaching his first professional game surely brought some nerves, even if he didn’t show them.
His first task was against the best team in the league, but he made sure his team came ready to play.
It was a back-and-forth affair from the outset. Both teams took their own large lead during the game, but it came down to the wire. Niagara had the lead in the closing minutes, and it looked as though the Lightning were on the verge of taking the lead for themselves. Niagara bent, but never broke, and spoiled Damian Warner night while securing Lokole’s first win as the head coach of the River Lions.
Niagara went on the road and came away with the hard-fought 111-108 victory over London.
London and Niagara traded the lead a total of 11 times during the game, with the River Lions taking the lead late in the fourth quarter and locking it down in the closing stretch.
In the early parts of the game, the Lightning raced out to an early lead. Less than 5 minutes into the game, London had stretched their lead to 8, at 15-7. After the 7:12 mark in the first quarter game and went, it was back-and-forth the rest of the way.
With the exception of the half-time speech from Warner, the crowd was never able to get into the game until the fourth quarter,
Niagara appeared to have the Lightning down for the count, taking a 13-point lead with 7:58 to play in the game. Much to the delight of the home crowd, the Lightning launched their comeback efforts, and used the noise of the fans as fuel for their momentum.
After Nick Okorie picked up a technical foul for the Lightning, and Sammy Zeglinski missed the ensuing free throw, London started to cut into the River Lions’ 13-point advantage,
Stephen Maxwell put in three straight points from the free throw line to kick off the comeback efforts, and Tyshawn Patterson started to find his groove. After connecting on a three pointer to cut the deficit to 7, he stole the inbound pass and put in a layup to send the crowd into a frenzy.
Ed Horton, who was making his Lightning debut, traded baskets with Clinton Springer-Williams, and the River Lions were ahead by 6.
In the closing minutes, the Lightning would do everything they could to take the lead for good. They threw everything at the River Lions, but Niagara held onto the lead for good.
Strong free throw shooting in the closing minute solidified the win for the River Lions, and Niagara came away with the 111-108 road win over the London Lightning.
Both teams had six players score in double-figures on the night. Niagara was led by Tramar Sutherland, who scored a team-high 22 points to go along with 6 rebounds. Logan Stutz, who always seems to bring his best when he plays the Lightning, recorded 17 points and 11 rebounds
Ryan Anderson led the way for the Lightning, scoring a game-high 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting from three point range. Stephen Maxwell recorded yet another double-double, posting 22 points and 18 rebounds in the loss.
Lightning fans held their breath in the fourth quarter, as Marcus Capers went down with an apparent ankle injury after attempting to block a shot. He grimaced in pain for a few moments on the sideline before being helped off the court by the training staff.
London returns to the court on Sunday when they go on the road to take on the Orangeville A’s at the Athlete Institute.