Raptors 905 108, Erie Bayhawks 104 | Box Score

Things seemed like they might finally be different for the Erie Bayhawks.

Surging out to a 13-4 lead that swelled as large as 16 early on, the Bayhawks looked primed to win for the first time since Feb. 3. Instead, Raptors 905 came out afire to start the second quarter, erasing that lead rather quickly and entering the half ahead. The 905 would then push their lead to as large as 11, and there was likely a sudden sense of deja vu for Erie as the game slipped away.

To their credit, the Bayhawks pushed back instead of folding, which may have created that seem feeling for the 905, who nearly coughed up a big lead to Erie in an earlier meeting, too. But as has been the story of the second half of the season, the 905 have “learned how to win.” That was on display as the 905 bent, but never quite let Erie come back, locking down on the defensive end from the first quarter onward and especially in the game’s closing minutes.

“Very good,” head coach Jesse Mermuys said of the team’s defense, which held Erie to 41.4 percent shooting and just five threes. “The only thing that we didn’t do – until the fourth quarter, which I thought won us the game – was we fouled. We played good defense and then we would bail them out.”

That defensive lock-in late was necessary, too, because a pair of missed Shannon Scott free throws nearly conspired to give Erie a miracle moment. Scott’s misses left the lead at four with 7.3 seconds left, and it took Sim Bhullar tipping an Erie inbound pass to Scott to steal the ball and help secure the 108-104 victory.

The win pushes the 905 to 18-26 on the season, and it drops Erie to 11-33. It also gives Erie a new D-League record in ineptitude with their 16th loss in a row.

“I learned a long time ago that you can’t feel bad for anybody because no one feels bad for you,” Mermuys said. “I do have a ton of respect for Bill (Peterson) as a coach. I think he does a great job, as far as sticking to the goal of developing players, which is what the league is all about, he does a great job.”

Asked prior to the game about the losing streak, Peterson, Erie’s head coach, was hesitant to make excuses, but the pain of the slide was obvious on his face. He revealed that at the beginning of the season, he had a list of seven key players he could go to late, and now only two of those remain. Devyn Marble, Adreian Payne, and Branden Dawson have only been sent down sporadically, the latter two through the flex system. Melvin Ejim is off to Italy. Even Myck Kabongo, likely a little lower on that list earlier in the year, sat out hurt in front of his home crowd. Tyler Harvey, hypothetically one of those names, has struggled from the floor all season and drew a DNP on Saturday.

The 905 know these hardships. It was just two weeks ago that they were thinned out to the point that general manager Dan Tolzman was, in the words of Mermuys, “moving and shaking” at the trade deadline to add reinforcements. Ronald Roberts is done for the season, Axel Toupane and Greg Smith have graduated to 10-day deals, and Norman Powell has graduated to an NBA starting job.

“The D-League is the Wild Wild West, man,” Mermuys said after the deadline. Peterson and the Bayhawks are feeling more Allan Pinkerton than Jesse James. Or, given they were once knocking at a .500 record and are now the D-League’s worst outfit by a wide margin, more Jesse James than Robert Ford.

Put differently, the Bayhawks didn’t have a Scott Suggs to turn to with the game on the line late. Nor did they have an E.J. Singler, who hit a pair of big shots back-to-back late in the game. They didn’t even have a Sim Bhullar to force double-teams and create open perimeter looks. The big man finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, that last number easily the most notable, though it’s not surprising to those following his progress over the last few months. He’d hit a bit of a tough stretch recently, facing a steady diet of stretchier frontcourts, and while Nnanna Egwu remained a worthy challenge inside, the battle was fought there – inside. That benefited the 905, and they outscored Erie by 16 in Bhullar’s 39 minutes.

“I thought Sim, when he was on the court, our defense was better. On the flip side, they struggled to guard him,” Mermuys said. “He was huge for us.”

Suggs was the steadiest hand on the court all night, shooting 11-of-17 for a game-high 29 points, drilling six threes in the process. It’s that type of veteran poise that’s often lacking on lesser D-League squads that see their quality players get promoted, and while it’s unfortunate (and a bit surprising) that Suggs hasn’t gotten a call yet, he’s become the 905’s most important player over the last few weeks.

Davion Berry, who’s quickly become one of Mermuys’ most-trusted hands, also put up 22 points, working well as a secondary creator from the wing and getting to the line at will. Bruno Caboclo only chipped in 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting, but he played within himself in terms of shot selection and made a crucial post-entry pass late, something that’s been an issue on late possessions for the 905.

The best Erie could manage to counter was the pairing of Ketih Appling and Jordan Sibert, a solid duo that combined for 50 points points on 38 shots, with 16 rebounds, and 14 assists. Appling even stole an inbound pass down six with under a minute to go, only to blow the ensuing tomahawk dunk and slow the comeback.

The Bayhawks couldn’t match artillery late, nor could they get the requisite stops, allowing the 905 to shoot 49.3 percent. Where the 905 have found new blood to replace their graduated talent and spent the year gaining the necessary experience to lock these games down, Erie continues to search.

There’s no feeling bad for a team in that situation, but the 905 should at least be thankful they developed quickly enough to avoid a similar fate.