Coaches and players will always tell you wins are wins. But for the St. John’s Edge, it had to be nice to finally register one in a game that didn’t come down to last few possessions.
Saturday night at Mile One Centre, the Edge defeated the Niagara River Lions 105-91 to improve to 5-2 early in their first National Basketball League of Canada season. The result came the night after St. John’s won its first-ever home game, edging the River Lions 105-103 before a revved-up full house at Mile On in a contest decided by Rashaun Broadus’s steal and layup basket in the game’s waning moments.
Friday was pretty typical of what the Edge had experienced in their five-game season-opening road trip, where none of their winning or losing margins was in double digits.
Still, they were good enough to win.
But on Saturday, they were much, much better.
If you have come to believe — as apparently do those who chanted “MVP! MVP” when Carl English had the ball Saturday — that as goes the Newfoundland guard, so go the Edge, then the weekend provided pretty good evidence.
On Saturday as St. John’s won going away, English had 33 points, the third time in six games that he had eclipsed the 30-point mark. On Friday, when they eked out a decision, English had been — in his own assessment — “‘OK” in scoring a game-high 22 points.
But 15 of those points came in the first quarter, after the 36-year-old from Patrick’s Cove admits he got caught up in the excitement of what was his first competitive game on home soil in almost two decades and the enthusiasm of 4,803 people, about 50 less than an official full house.
“It was pretty special … an amazing crowd that showed a lot of love, a lot of appreciation,” said English. “I’m thankful and grateful for that, but you know what? I’m used to playing in front of big crowds and in some big games, but it was pretty surreal looking around and seeing faces of friends, people you know, and my brothers and family members.”
English had a little extra time to check out the stands. The start of Friday’s game was delayed over half an hour when wonky shot clocks had to be changed out, but not before the time it took for replacements to be transferred from the Provincial Training Centre on Crosbie Road.
Once the game started, English helped stake the Edge to the lead they held for almost the entire night, at least until the River Lions chipped it all away in the fourth quarter and even went ahead, making Broadus’s heroics necessary.
Somewhere along the way, English admitted he “hit a wall.”
Head coach Jeff Dunlap thought his star guard “looked a little tired” as the game went on and wondered if he should be cutting back on his minutes.
As it turned out, English did play a bit less Saturday —32 minutes of action compared to 36 on Friday — but he insisted floor time was not the problem in the home-opener, that he simply got caught up a little too much in the atmosphere.
He promised to be better the next night.
And he was.
Granted, he didn’t have a single point in Saturday’s third quarter. Then again, nobody was that great in those 12 minutes, when baskets were few and Niagara outscored St. John’s 19-15. But English’s pilot light was relit and his scoring furnace was on bust in the final quarter, when he chalked up 14 points, which happened to be the difference (33-19) in scoring by the teams in that fourth frame.
And despite going just 4-for-14 on three-pointers Friday, English’s stated confidence in his long-range shooting did not erode. He continued throwing up treys, making eight of 13 on Saturday as he improved his season scoring average to 26.5, second best in the league.
But there have been plenty of other contributors, including forward Charles Hinkle, who had 27 points Saturday, giving him a 20.7 average, sixth-best in the circuit.
In fact all 12 players on the team had points on Saturday, among then centre Grandy Glaze, with nine. Glaze also continued his stellar rebounding, grabbing 11 boards in Saturday’s rematch with the River Lions, who arrived in St. John’s having won their first three games of the season.
Guard Omar Strong, the former NBL Canada sixth man of the year back in the league after a couple of years in France, led Niagara with 18 points on Saturday. Samuel Muldrow, who once starred in the SEC with the University of South Carolina, topped the visitors with 19 points the previous night.
Next up for the Edge is another visiting team from Ontario, one that should also give the new team a good test. The defending champion London Lightning are in town for games Tuesday and Wednesday (both 7 p.m. starts) in what will be St. John’s final home shows of 2017.
Notes: Attendance was down to 2,878 Saturday at Mile One, but the Edge’s home crowds for their first two home dates are the second- and fourth-largest in the league this season. The Lightning, who averaged more than 5,200 in London in 2016-17, had attendance numbers of 5,564 and 3,960 for their first two games at home this fall ... Broadus led all Edge players with 37 minutes of floor time Friday, with Hinkle leading that category the next night ... St. John's guard Alex 'Superman' Johnson finished the weekend with 10 steals, more than anyone in the series ...