For the second time in as many games, a Jelani Watson-Gayle free throw on the road in Target Score Time helped the Winnipeg Sea Bears (4-1) hold off a surging rival, as Winnipeg squeaked out a 96-93 victory over the Saskatchewan Rattlers (2-2) at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon tonight.

Three days ago, Watson-Gayle calmly knocked down a game-winning free throw in target score to defeat the Vancouver Bandits. 

“The free throw line, by yourself, is just a mental game,” Watson-Gayle said. “Every time I shoot I tell myself that it’s going to go in before it does.” 

After the game, Sea Bears head coach Michael Taylor credited Watson-Gayle’s preparation in allowing him to succeed when he gets on the court. 

“Jelani is really important, he’s a dynamic playmaker, he plays with a lot of confidence and his confidence comes from his hard work and preparation,” Taylor said. 

The first matchup between the two prairie rivals was hotly contested from tipoff. 

Both teams came into tonight evenly matched on a variety of fronts. 

They were the top two scoring teams in the CEBL, with Saskatchewan averaging 93 points per game compared to Winnipeg’s 91, and had a pair of superstars leading the way on offence. 

Those two stars went head-to-head early on. 

Winnipeg’s Teddy Allen, who nearly recorded a triple double in his last game, notched a double-double tonight with 29 points and 13 rebounds. Eight of his 29 points came in the first. 

Justin Wright-Foreman, meanwhile, who came into tonight leading the CEBL in points per game at 26.7, scored 9 of his game-high 34 points in the first quarter. 

However, neither star could power their respective team to jump out to a large lead, as there were 13 lead changes in a first half that ended with a 49-45 Winnipeg lead. 

The level of intensity in the new rivalry also picked up in the second quarter, when Simon Hildebrandt and Michael Nuga were called for unsportsmanlike fouls after fighting for a rebound under Winnipeg’s basket. 

“I think it’s just good and healthy competition, they’re a good, well-coached team, it’s part of the game and emotions flared,” said Nuga, who recorded 16 points off the bench. 

Fueled by four three pointers by Drake Jefferies in the third quarter, Saskatchewan held a two-point lead after three.

But Winnipeg ultimately retook the lead by four points when the game clock was shut off for target score. 

The Sea Bears were in control for the majority of the final frame, however, a Wright-Foreman three pointer brought the Rattlers to within one point. On the next possession though, Wright-Foreman fouled a driving Watson-Gayle which set up the two game-winning free throws that ended the game. 

“We’ve been really focusing on our execution in Target Score Time,” Taylor said. “Today guys came in with a real sense of purpose and focus. I think we did a really good job defensively causing turnovers and creating tough shots.” 

Outside of Allen and Wright-Foreman, EJ Anosike recorded 25 points and 8 rebounds for the Sea Bears and Jefferies finished with 22 points and 6 threes for Saskatchewan. 

The lack of disparity between the two teams was also reflected in the final box score. 

Winnipeg and Saskatchewan finished with the same number of rebounds (41), a near identical field goal shooting percentage (45 per cent for Winnipeg, 46 per cent for Saskatchewan), and a difference of just two turnovers in the game (12 for Winnipeg and 14 for Saskatchewan). 

Saskatchewan will look to rebound at home on Sunday afternoon against the 4-1 Calgary Surge. 

Winnipeg, after winning three out of four on an extended road trip, will return to the Canada Life Centre on Monday for a date with the Edmonton Stingers. 

The Sea Bears and Rattlers will meet again on June 23 in Winnipeg.