By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The sports atmosphere in Western New York has been crowded in the past several days. Most of the oxygen has been taken by fans of the University at Buffalo and St. Bonaventure basketball teams, while the Bills’ moves at the start of free agency have been very noteworthy as well.
It’s tough for everyone else to find much breathing space with all of that going on. So consider this a public service announcement of sorts, as we try to catch up on what’s going on with the Buffalo Bandits.
And based on Friday night’s game, the news isn’t good.
The Bandits never led for a second of a 16-10 loss to the Saskatchewan Rush before 12,936 in the KeyBank Center. That made it three straight losses for Buffalo, dropping its record to 6-6. What was a first-place team a couple of weeks ago is now right in the middle of mad scramble for playoff positions in the National Lacrosse League’s East Division.
“They (Saskatchewan) are awfully good, but we didn’t play well tonight,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. “That’s the second game in a row at home we didn’t play well. Our offense, in the first half we kept dropping passes. It looked like our first time out at the start of training camp. We missed assignments. We weren’t good.”
A RUGGED OPPONENT
Admittedly, Saskatchewan is not a team that is an ideal opponent when your team is struggling. The Rush improved to 11-2 on the season, easily the best in the league. Players like Robert Church (six goals on 11 shots), and Mark Matthews (one goal and eight assists) reinforced their reputation as the best one-two combination in the game with their performances.
“They play hard,” Cordingley said about the Rush. “They are cutting through the middle; they are doing things for each other out there. Our defense, there were times where we were really good and in their lanes, and then we’d fall asleep. We have to correct that, because we’re not to make the playoffs playing like that.”
This one felt like it was going to be one of those nights for the Bandits almost from the start. Matthew Dinsdale scored for Saskatchewan only 45 seconds into the game. The teams alternated goals for the next few minutes, but Church picked up his second of the game just past the nine-minute mark of the game – and the Bandits trailed the rest of the way. Buffalo was down by 5-3 at the end of the first period, and by 8-4 at halftime.
“The bounces weren’t going our way,” Evans said. “They were capitalizing on their opportunities, and that made it hard to battle back. You want to get a win, and it didn’t happen.”
The lead reached seven goals at 13-7 at the end of the third period. Buffalo had come from way behind earlier in the season to beat the Rush earlier in the season in Saskatchewan, and there was a little spark when Dhane Smith and Jordan Durston opened the final period with goals 33 seconds apart. But Jeff Shattler answered Durston’s goal with a score only 16 seconds later, and it became rather obvious there that there were no repeat miracles to be found.
“Those are tough games,” Smith said. “We have to focus on the little things, like loose balls. I feel like we got our chances. They are a great defensive team, but I think we’re a great offense. I feel like we were getting our shots but not shooting very well. They kept getting power plays, and we got away from our rhythm.”
THE NEW ONE-TWO PUNCH
Evans and Smith led Buffalo’s attack with three goals each. It was the second game that the two players have been on the same side, as Evans came over from New England in a recent trade. The adjustment period continues, but the two players are happy with the progress made in that time.
“I felt a lot better,” Evans said. “I felt like I was hitting the spots I wanted to hit. It’s just unfortunate we weren’t able to come up with the win.”
“He’s a great player,” Smith said. “We do adjust a little bit but not too much. He can get me open a lot more than I thought I would be. Maybe we’ve changed our games a little too much. I think we have to go back to how we play and figure it out from there. But it’s only the second game, and we’ll figure out.”
The Bandits have lost their margin for error with this losing streak. Buffalo needs to get going , and soon, because it won’t take much more losing to fall out of a playoff position. With all of the five teams in the East so close, every divisional game will be doubly important down the stretch.
“It’s a roller-coaster,” Cordingley said about the Bandits’ season. “There’s so much potential. I know we’re young, but that’s an excuse. You play these games in a tight division, battling for our lives in a playoff spot. And we show up like that, and that’s disheartening.”
Buffalo next goes to Georgia to play the Swarm on Sunday afternoon.