By John Matisz/London Community News
The London Lightning may have punched their ticket to the post-season, but that hasn't stopped their clobbering of the competition.
Before 2,730 at the John Labatt Centre Sunday afternoon (Jan. 29), the National Basketball League of Canada’s (NBLC) top squad punished the Saint John Mill Rats by a score of 125-99.
It was London's highest offensive output of the season, and fourth victory over the New Brunswick-based franchise in five meetings this year.
The approximately 30 seconds ticked off before DeAnthony Bowden scored the game's opening bucket from beyond the arc represented the only time when the Mill Rats were not trailing the Lightning.
At halftime, London had amassed a 23-point lead, as the scoreboard read 60-37.
Thanks to a Summerside Storm (10-17) loss the night prior, London (21-6) came into Sunday’s tilt as the first team to ever clinch a playoff spot in the NBLC. Their 42 points puts them in an enviable position down the stretch, with about 10 matches left on each team's regular season schedule.
Against the three-point shooting machine that is Saint John (12-14), the Lightning out-rebounded and out-shot the competition. Their 55.1 field goal percentage and 57 rebounds were leaps and bounds better than Saint John's 36.8 and 42, respectively.
"We did what we were supposed to do — kick their ass," said Michael Ray Richardson, the Lightning’s eccentric head coach, following the emphatic victory.
As usual, London's Gabe Freeman — consensus front-runner to receive the league's most valuable player award at season's end — was stellar in a leading role. With 29 points and 10 rebounds, the 26-year-old added another tally to his league-leading double-double count. To date, Freeman's 21 is eight more than the Storm's Mike Williams, who is second-in-line in double-double games.
"They're just such a veteran team," said Isaac Kuon, a Mill Rats guard and University of Windsor graduate who was cut from the Lightning in training camp. "Having the same coach for a couple of years has allowed them to learn how to control the tempo of the game."
London's ability to dictate the contest's flow was most evident during a 22-2 run to begin the second quarter. To close out the half, the twosome of Freeman and fellow forward Rodney Buford combined for 21 points and eight rebounds over a 12-minute span. The oft-precise Buford went 4-for-7 from the field in 26 minutes of action, collecting six rebounds as well.
Despite some undisciplined play — 29 fouls to Saint John's 20 — the Bolts found a way to keep the opposition's starting five to a respectable 65 points. Meanwhile, their bench contributed close to the same — 57 points — including the first three-pointer of the season from rarely used local product, Pat Sewell. The Forest City native has just seven total points over the course of 11 games played.
One of London's second-unit guards, Eddie Smith, is averaging just about double Sewell's output, per game, at 14.5 points. Though keeping pace with his season average Sunday, the Springfield, Ill., native noted team chemistry is an area of need.
"We're just trying to finish strong," said Smith, who compiled 14 points and six rebounds. "We aren't completely on the same page yet, especially defensively."
Richardson, the team's ultimate decision-maker, echoed his player's sentiments.
"Our job is not done," he enforced to reporters. "We need to make sure we're paying attention to details better. We want home court advantage."
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