River Lions sluggish in loss to BlackJacks
The Niagara River Lions saw their three-game winning streak come to a crashing halt with a 101-87 loss to the Ottawa BlackJacks Saturday night in St. Catharines.
The River Lions were hoping to head out on an important three-game road trip on a positive note, but were outworked by a more desperate Ottawa squad.
“Every game is a playoff game. It’s why we can’t have nights where it’s like this,” River Lions head coach/general manager Victor Raso said. “You try hard but mentally, it’s like you beat this team last week (and think) it’s all gonna be relatively easy. It’s not.”
Raso didn’t believe the River Lions, playing their second game in two days following a 99-86 win over Calgary before a packed house at Friday morning, were out of gas.
“It’s just an excuse and at the end of the day the season is pretty relentless,” he said. “Those guys had a tough stretch too. It just comes down to making sure you’re mentally prepared. If it was a playoff game, our guys would not have played like that and that’s kind of the problem.
“If they lost they were in last place and if you don’t play like it’s a playoff team every time, you give teams a chance to beat you.”
Niagara struggled to hit from the charity stripe at 58 per cent with 13 misses, something Raso also attributed to mental awareness.
“I think our urgency needs to be there mentally, not physically. We have to have urgency,” he said. “When you are really locked into the game, into the entire thing, usually those things are taken care of.”
While defending Canadian Elite Basketball League Most Valuable Player Khalil Ahmed had an usually quiet night with only 11 points, 2023 Defensive Player of the Year EJ Onu tallied 15 points, five rebounds and three blocks. TJ Lall also played an all-around game with 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals.
“He’s been good off the bench,” Raso said of Lall. “He’s just really active and he tries hard. He’s good at the little things and he understands the plan and he’s started making some shots.
“I’m very happy with TJ.”
Lall, a former Brock Badger, understands his role coming off the bench.
“It always feels good (to contribute) but the main goal is to win the game so anything I can do off the bench — bring positive energy, defence, rebounding, scoring or anything the team is lacking — the bench has to try and come in and provide,” he said.
Lall agreed with Raso that BlackJacks deserved to win.
“They competed harder than us today. That’s the reason they won,” he said.
The loss drops Niagara’s record to 5-5 at the halfway point of the regular season.
“Obviously, we want to win every game but there’s ups and downs throughout the year,” Lall said. “We just had a three-game winning streak so if we get back on track and win our next game, we’re not done.”
The River Lions are in Winnipeg Thursday, Saskatchewan Sunday, July 2 and in Brampton Wednesday, July 5 before returning home Friday, July 7 versus Brampton.
“It’s always hard to win on the road,” Lall said. “We just have to start in Winnipeg and take it one at a time.”
Lions Den: Former St. Francis Phoenix Abu Kijab recently signed with the BlackJacks. He scored two points and had two rebounds in 6:38 of action.
BlackJacks 101 River Lions 87
BPSN Player of the Game: Ottawa’s Tyrrell Tate with 24 points.
Niagara River Lions: Jahvon Blair 22; EJ Onu 15; TJ Lall 11; Khalil Ahmed 11.
Ottawa BlackJacks: Tate 24; Jackson Rowe 18; Caleb Agada 17.
Game stats: Shooting percentage: Niagara 39, Ottawa 53. Free throws: Niagara 18-31, Ottawa 17-20 Rebounds: Niagara 41, Ottawa 42. Turnovers: Niagara 10, Ottawa 18.
Up next: The River Lions hit the road for a three-game trip that starts in Winnipeg Thursday.
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