The St. John's Edge were looking for a bit of a boost in Carl English's return to action.
What they got was a huge lift.
Playing his first game in almost two-and-a-half months, English had a team-high 22 points as the Edge downed the KW (Kitchener-Waterloo) Titans 101-94 Saturday night at Mile One Centre in the opening game of their best-of-seven National Basketball League of Canada Central Division final.
Game 2 is 7 o’clock tonight at Mile One, where St. John's will be seeking to take a 2-0 lead into the next phase of the playoff series, which will see Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, Game 5, played in Kitchener, Ont.
That quest will be more achievable if the Edge can get a repeat of Saturday, when the team's biggest stars showed the way. Besides benefitting from English's triumphant return to action, St. John's big man and former NBA champion Glen Davis had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the lone double-double in a game that was truly back-and-forth.
There were no less than 17 lead changes Saturday and the score was tied as late as the nine-and-a-half minute mark of the fourth quarter, when two big defensive plays led to go-ahead points for St. John's.
The first was a steal by Murphy Burnatowski with the ball ending up in the hands of English, who got it back to Burnatowski for a dunk that put the Edge up 94-92.
Then, after a Titans time-out, another steal, courtesy of Dez Lee, led to two more points for St. John's, this time from English, with Davis getting an assist.
KW would get a couple of points off free throws, but no more, as St. John's pretty much shut the door the rest of the way, aided by another steal, this time by Davis, and a couple of rebounds.
English, who last played Feb. 7 before surgery on damaged thumb ligaments, had an impact on Saturday's game, although it was not immediate.
The 38-year-old Newfoundlander began the night on the bench and entered at about the five-minute mark to a thunderous standing ovation from the Mile One gathering of over 4,200.
In less than six minutes, the native of Patrick's Cove would have eight points, six of them coming on a pair of three-pointers.
The way he finished was also impressive. English scored six points while playing seven minutes in the fourth quarter, including those crucial ones at the end, all the time with five fouls, just one away from being out of the game.
In all, English would see 25 minutes of floor time, as part of a bench contingent that made a big contribution to the St. John's victory. The Edge's non-starters had 47 points compared to 34 for their Titans counterparts in what was the most significant statistical difference on the night.
Also coming off the Edge bench was Kyle Johnson, making his debut with St. John's. Johnson had six points in 15 minutes of play with his new team, which experienced a sort of two-for-one swap of Canadian guards this past week, with English being activated from injured reserve and Johnson being signed, while Junior Cadougan was lost to a season-ending injury.
But overall, the health of the Edge roster seems to be better, when you take into account English's return performance and the fact Lee, who had been banged up enough to miss nearly two full games of the opening-round playoff series with the Sudbury Five, played a game-high 40 minutes Saturday, scoring nine points and adding seven rebounds and six assists.
Also seeing 40 minutes of floor time was the Titan's Damon Lynn, who led all scorers with 23 points. Ed Horton added 21 for Kitchener-Waterloo.
The winner of this Central Division series will advance to the NBLC final to take on either the Moncton Magic or Halifax Hurricanes, who are tied 1-1 in their Atlantic Division final.