River Lions overcomes cold start with a hot finish


The Niagara River Lions find the basket more than half full midway through the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) season.

A 71-68 victory over the Hamilton Honey Badgers on Saturday night at the Meridian Center in St. Catharines improved their record to 4-3 with seven games remaining in the shortened season.

Niagara, who played in front of spectators at home for the first time since August 1, 2019, returned to the winning column by overcoming a 19-3 deficit and beating the visitors 29-12 in the third quarter.

The Honey Badgers, who fought their way from a 17-point hole in a 78-76 win over Niagara the previous week in Hamilton, took an 8-0 lead over a River Lions team who was shooting cold in the rematch.

How cold was the home team when they walked over to the rim and looked openly at the basket?

Niagara didn’t score its first point until 4.30am – yes, four minutes and 30 seconds! – in the game.

“It was like four years,” said Victor Raso, general manager and head coach of Niagara, relieved, chuckling in a post-game scrimmage.

He described the start of his team as “almost comical”.

“We were getting pretty good looking, but I think we did something crazy, like one of the 18, to start the game,” said Raso. “I don’t think we were getting bad shots, but nothing was coming in. “

The third-year head coach was impressed with his team’s level of competition.

“They fought incredibly hard. They broke through in that third quarter and kept getting saves and rebounds, ”said Raso. “They were on the same page and executed. “Basketball is a tough sport. You’re trying to play a flawed game perfectly, and our guys had to face so much adversity. “

Niagara goaltender Javin Delaurier, who led all players with 17 points and 17 rebounds, said the victory from behind is a testament to the character of the team.

“It’s really just a testament to the character of the guys we have in our locker room, being able to fight such a deficit,” he said. “We have done it several times during the season.

Niagara’s long drought early in the game didn’t faze goaltender Jaylen Babb-Harrison, whose 13 points included the winning field goal in a biting Elam Ending.

He did not believe that the presence of an announced crowd of 943 fans contributed to the cold start of the home side.

“I don’t think that was it. I just feel like it was one of those days. It’s just how basketball is sometimes, ”said former Honey Badger. “Sometimes you don’t make plans, so you start doing other things.

“You have to play defensively, bounce back. Just play louder. Do everything else better.

Babb-Harrison said the importance of performing in front of the fans cannot be overstated.

“It’s super important. We feed off this energy, ”he said. “We don’t have the fans, we probably won’t win this game.

“Even though it looked like we had started cold, if we didn’t have fans we might have even started colder. “

Raso felt the presence of the fans in the stands.

“It was great. It looked great too,” he said. “It was like a normal game.

Niagara’s next three games will be at home, starting with Tuesday’s kickoff at 7 p.m. with the Saskatchewan Rattlers. After that, there will be a rematch with the Ottawa BlackJacks on Saturday July 24, and their first league game against the Guelph Nighthawks on Friday July 30.

Raso said Niagara couldn’t afford to dismiss the 0-8 Rattlers as snakebites

“We cannot look beyond Saskatchewan. They are not as bad as their track record, ”he said. “They have new Americans in there.

“They play in a playoff game pretty much all the time.”

All but the last in the seven-team league will remain in contention for a championship after the season ends on August 10.

Championship week runs August 18-22 at the 4,857-seat Expo Center in Edmonton, where the team with the best league record and the Edmonton Stingers await the winners of the quarter-finals from 14-15. August.

Edmonton is also the defending champion.

The choice of the capital of Alberta for the last four of this year continues a tendency to alternate between Eastern and Western Canada. Last year’s summer series championship tournament went without spectators while the first championship weekend was held in Saskatoon, home of the Saskatchewan Rattlers.

The Rattlers went on to win the title on their home turf.

Next year’s championship weekend will be in Ottawa.

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