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You could call him Mr. Reliable or Mr. Consistent based on his play over one-plus seasons with the St. John’s Edge.
But on Sunday afternoon, Dez Lee was Mr. Determination.
Lee had 31 points, 23 of them coming in the second half, as the Edge won their third straight game, downing the Island Storm 123-116 in National Basketball League of Canada play at Mile One Centre.
The 28-year-old Lee was as dependable as any player for the Edge in their inaugural NBL Canada season, averaging almost 11 points and a half-dozen rebounds a game. But he’s taken it to another level this fall, pushing those stats up to 15 points and seven-and-half boards through the first nine games of the 2018-19 campaign for St. John’s (4-5).
Lee is the team’s third-leading scorer (after Maurice Jones and Carl English) and even though he’s seen as a combo guard, is still second on the Edge in rebounding, just behind Keith Wright.
“Dez is a heart and soul player. He’s a warrior,” said Edge coach Doug Plumb after his team downed the Storm for the second time on the weekend (St. John’s had won 112-104 Friday night).
Not that Plumb was satisfied with Lee or his team throughout Sunday’s contest.
The Edge led by 11 points at one point in the first half, but allowed the Charlottetown, P.E.I.-based Storm to claw back, in large part by giving up too many second-chance buckets. And as the teams headed to the locker rooms at the midway break, it was the visitors leading by one.
During halftime, Plumb called for more from Lee, who had eight points in 15 minutes of play, but wasn’t showing enough resolve, at least in the coach’s estimation.
“I challenged him a little bit,” said Plumb. “I told him ‘Your points are going to come, but the biggest elements you bring to this team are your toughness and your grit.’
“And I thought he responded. He was fantastic in the second half … you saw the drive and determination he showed.”
That was evident in that Lee made 13 trips to the free-throw line in the second half and 17 in all, more than twice as many times as any other Edge player, with the majority of those charity-stripe tosses coming on drives to the basket.
The best example of Lee’s value in that regard may have come with a minute-and-a-half left in the game and the Storm trailing by just three points, in large part because of the long-range shooting by Alex Campbell and former Edge player Russell Byrd. But Byrd was playing with five fouls, and he ended up leaving the game after getting his sixth on a — you guessed it — Lee venture to the hoops.
“Byrd was having a great game, but we knew they were having a hard time keeping me out of the lane, so if I could get the matchup with him, we might draw a sixth foul and get him out of the game,” said Lee.
“And that’s what happened.”
Lee promptly hit the two free throws, and with one of their biggest scoring threats out of the picture, the Storm never got closer.
After a Wright rebound, English put things away with his seventh three-pointer of the day, with Lee getting an assist.
“I always try my best when called upon,” said Lee, “and (Plumb) challenged me to pick it up in the second half and be a dog, be a warrior.
“But I knew it wasn’t personal. The way I look at it, it really showed that he believed in me, that I could do it.
“It was up to me to show he was right.”
English had a cold start to the weekend; he was 1-for-13 in Friday’s game before finding his stroke in the fourth quarter, but his hot shooting carried over into the rematch, when he had 23 points, 21 coming on three-pointers. Diego Kapelan, who regularly subbed in for English, had five three-pointers and joined Jones (who was just one assist short of a double-double for a second straight game) with 19 points for St. John’s.
Kapelan was part of a bench brigade that delivered 42 points, including a crowd-pleasing five from former NBA standout Glen ’Big Baby’ Davis, who saw nine minutes of floor time, all in the first half. Still, that was considerably more than the three minutes Davis played as he made his Edge debut in Friday’s 112-104 victory over the Island side.
Davis wasn’t the only big man making his Edge debut on the weekend.
Former Arizona State star Obinna Oleka had 12 points coming off the bench each game and was his team’s leading rebounder in both contests.
“He’s been fantastic,” Plumb said of Oleka, who had seven boards Sunday. “People talk about Glen only having one practice, with us. Well, Obi’s only had two. For him to come in and provide the spark he’s given us has been huge.”
And one final note about contributions from the Edge’s bench. According to Plumb, that late drive by Lee that saw Byrd fouling out was the brainchild of a player who spent almost the entire game watching from the sidelines.
“You knew who drew up the play?” asked Plumb. “It was Jared Nickens.
“People contribute in different ways.”
Sampson Carter led the Storm (2-4) with 28 points, while Russell Byrd and Alex Campbell each had 25 … Former Memorial Sea-Hawks guard Daniel Gordon had only seen two minutes of action in total with the Storm in their five previous games, but got four minutes on the floor Sunday, getting his first professional points (on a trey) and first rebound … Attendance Sunday was just under 2,900 after just over 3,200 showed up at Mile One Friday … The Edge finish out their pre-Christmas schedule Tuesday and Wednesday at Mile One Centre, where they host the expansion Sudbury Five (7-3), whose lineup features Grandy Glaze, a fan favourite with St. John’s last season …