Five ‘shoot the lights out’ to take series lead

Sudbury Star

Jaylen Bland, right, of the Sudbury Five, drives to the basket against Murphy Burnatowski, of the St. John’s Edge, during playoff basketball action at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Wednesday April 10, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network / John Lappa/Sudbury Star

If Jaylen Bland’s recent recognition as Newcomer of the Year didn’t remind enough fans of the splash with which he began his career in the National Basketball League of Canada, his performance Wednesday night must have jogged their memories.

Just as the sharp-shooting guard from Saginaw, Mich. led the way offensively during his regular-season debut, Bland was red hot to open the home side of their post-season schedule, with 31 points and nine rebounds in a 124-112 victory over the St. John’s Edge.

After dealing with injuries at times during the regular season, the University of California Riverside alum has looked to be in top form to start his team’s best-of-five NBLC quarter-final, which Sudbury now leads 2-1.

They can close out the series on home court Friday night.

“I feel confident,” smiled Bland, who was 10 for 17 from the floor and seven for 13 from three-point range. “I feel thankful for my teammates, for putting me in the situations they put me in. I’m just trying to make plays, to be efficient and shoot the ball, shoot the lights out.”

Cory Dixon scored 25 points, Maurice Jones Sr. 18, Braylon Rayson 15, Dexter Williams Jr. 13, along with eight rebounds, and Mamadou Gueye 12 for the Five, who bounced back nicely after their offence cooled off late in a Game 2 loss in St. John’s on Sunday.

Maurice Jones Sr., of the Sudbury Five, dishes the ball off to a teammate during basketball playoff action against the St. John’s Edge at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Wednesday April 10, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

“It’s great, but we can’t be satisfied,” Bland said. “There’s still work to be done. It feels good taking care of home court and getting that first playoff victory, making history, and we’re ready to finish it off on Friday.”

St. John’s was without leading scorer Dez Lee, due to injury, but big man Glen Davis stepped up for a gritty 27-point, 11-rebound performance. Isaiah Tate II had 19 points and Shaquille Keith 18 for the Edge, who actually led by as much as 11 in the first quarter, but went on a run in the second and never looked back, building a lead of 53-48 by halftime and 91-70 by the end of the third.

“We just kept playing hard, kept the pacing going,” Bland said. “We knew they weren’t comfortable with our pace, so we played our pace, played our game, and it worked out for us.”

“The guys played great,” added Logan Stutz, Sudbury’s head coach and general manager. “Shots went down and when that happens, it opens up a lot for us and that’s our game. We started playing our game and we got the lead.”

Stutz was impressed as ever with Bland, whom he called “an incredible player.”

“What he has done is incredible,” Stutz said. “I feel so blessed to find him and to get him signed here to play. Now, it’s going to open doors for him. I always tell people he’s someone special, you have to come see him.”

Fans liked a lot of what they saw on Wednesday, and their enthusiasm and decibel level seemed to provide the Five with energy, as well as encourage their creativity.

Jones and Rayson, in particular, made some eye-popping passes, while Dixon, who does much of his scoring inside, took to the sky for some mid-range jumpers, and even a rare three-pointer, that sent him marching around the court in triumph.

“It’s nice to be on home floor,” Stutz added. “You have the fans at your back, everything’s a little easier, you get over mistakes, you keep your head up, and the result of that showed on the court tonight.”

Game 4 of the series tips off at 7:05 p.m. on Friday. Game 5, if necessary, is in St. John’s, April 14.

“Heart,” said Bland, when asked what it will take to close out the series. “You got to have heart. It’s going to be tough and whoever wants it is going to get it.”

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

Dexter Williams Jr., of the Sudbury Five, drives to the basket during basketball playoff action against the St. John’s Edge at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Wednesday April 10, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network / John Lappa/Sudbury Star

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