It hasn’t shown in the team’s performance in its first four games, but you know the road has to be wearing on the St. John’s Edge.
But it hasn’t eroded their grit.
Playing their fourth National Basketball League of Canada game in five days and operating without top scorer Carl English, who was given a night off to rest, the Edge persevered for a 96-89 win over the Moncton Magic in southeastern New Brunswick Wednesday night.
Going in, this was going to be either an easy game to lose or a hard one to win.
The expansion Edge chose the latter option, gutting out their third victory in four games despite some shooting struggles, both from the field and the free-throw line.
And they did it without English, who had averaged 24 points in their first three games.
The word from the club was that English wasn’t sidelined because of injury, but because head coach Jeff Dunlap had decided the 36-year-old from Patrick’s Cove needed a night off, especially given the team had only arrived in Moncton hours before Wednesday’s game after a nearly 500-kilometre bus trip from Sydney, N.S., where the Edge had defeated the Cape Breton Highlanders 106-98 on Tuesday night.
So put it down as a coach’s decision.
It couldn’t have been an easy one. The Edge offence had been clearly running through English and he had been St. John’s leading scorer in two of the first three games.
But with so much of a 40-game schedule still to come, with the Edge still having one game left on a season-opening five-game road trip — Friday night in Saint John, N.B., against the Riptide — and probably even looking ahead to his team’s home-opener Dec. 1 at Mile One Centre, Dunlap obviously felt it was best to give English an early-season battery charge.
Not that his teammates — all younger than him — hadn’t been feeling the drain, too.
That fatigue showed in many ways Wednesday, mostly in that St. John’s shooting sights were a bit askew.
The Edge had a success rate of less than 30 percent on three-pointers — although the absence of the long-bombing English had to be a contributor there. And they shot just a little over 50 per cent onfree throws, but were much better in that regard when it really mattered.
St. John’s was eight-for-10 from the line in the game’s last minute, when the trailing Magic were forced to foul. Charles Hinkle made seven of those free throws, including five straight to close things out.
The win came through other devices, too, including good defending. That was on display in the last minute, when St. John’s came up with three rebounds, plus steals by Jarion Henry and Jarryn Skeete, capitalizing on a Magic side desperate to win in its season- and home-opener.
But this was a game that possessed no real turning point. Instead, it was best defined by the running score, which showed St. John’s trailing for almost the entirety of the first half, but tying it up at 47-47 going into the break. And it was evidenced when the Magic pushed back to begin the third quarter and built up a double-digit advantage. But instead of packing it in and looking ahead to Saint John, the Edge worked their way back, eventually taking a lead they would not relinquish when Henry made a layup with about 100 seconds remaining n the contest.
In English’s absence, it was two other veteran guards who led the Edge in scoring, with 29-year-old Alex Johnson putting up 19 points, and Rashaun Broadus, 33, adding 18.
Hinkle finished with 16 points, while Desmond Lee had 13 and four steals.
Centre Rudolphe Joly had a double-double — with 10 points and 12 boards — in just 19 minutes of work. Joly’s rebounding was especially important given the Edge are missing centre Grandy Glaze, who is on assignment with the Canadian national men’s team.
In Glaze’s case, there was a roster replacement in the form of rookie Zach Gordon, who was activated before Tuesday’s game against the Highlanders.
There was no such fill-in for English; St. John’s had 11 active players, one short of the norm, in Moncton.
One thing resulting from the compressed road trip and also those hours in the bus — the Edge played also Saturday night in Charlottetown, P.E.I. and Sunday afternoon in Halifax — is an acceleration of the development of team chemistry.
“I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve played well (so far),” said Dunlap earlier this week. “It’s incredibly important… chemistry (and) that one-for-all, all-for-one mindset.
“I’m not dealing with any selfishness. I’m dealing with a bunch of guys who want to win, who want to be successful.
“It all helps you grow as a team. And what we’ve already accomplished says a lot about the direction we’re heading. It says that we’re going the right way.”
Wednesday night in Moncton, they looked to have added to that evidence.