River Lions advance to CEBL final
Phil Scrubb’s long three pointer in Elam time gave the Niagara River Lions an 84-82 victory over the Fraser Valley Bandits Friday night in Edmonton and advanced the team to the Canadian Elite Basketball League championship game Sunday afternoon.
Niagara had two earlier chances to win but Scrubb and Jalen Babb-Harrison both missed threes. Scrubb’s winning shot was set up by a great defensive stand by Niagara, sparked by an excellent contest of a shot by Javin DeLaurier.
Niagara’s victory was somewhat surprising considering the team hadn’t practised or played together since Aug. 8 when a positive COVID-19 test by one of the participants in a game versus Niagara and the Ottawa BlackJacks sent the River Lions into COVID protocols.
Niagara was able to get back DeLaurier and Tyree White from NBA Summer League stints but they also were missing Thomas Scrubb (reported to the Monbus Obradoiro team in Spain), Guillaume Payen-Boucard (went to join a pro team in France) and Xavier Sneed (signed a contract with the Charlotte Hornets).
“Considering the circumstances, I am through the roof,” Niagara head coach and GM Victor Raso said. “I saw three guys today (for the first time in two weeks) and I saw three guys yesterday that we’ve played three games since I saw them last.
“Our backs were against the wall, we had 30 minutes of practise and for our guys to play the minutes they played, make the shots they did down the stretch and win a game like that, I am incredibly proud. I am beyond proud.”
Raso was left scrambling to game plan around all the arrivals and departures.
“It was not only not seeing each other but we had to incorporate Javin and Tyree back in after three weeks and we had to deal with the fact that we were losing Guillaume and Tommy and Tommy has just been unbelievable for us,” he said. “It is insane. We had so much adversity and I can’t believe that we won that game.”
Despite that statement, Raso never doubted that his team would triumph.
“I am confident this group can compete with anybody, whatever group we put on the floor, but down the stretch on that last possession, I was telling the guys to win it and not go for the two and go for the three because I didn’t know if we had another defensive stop in us,” he said. “We were struggling to get stops and that shot that Phil made was just absolutely massive. We needed that to go in.”
Many of Niagara’s key players played extended minutes Friday and Saturday’s day off will come in handy.
“Tomorrow will be rest and recovery and we will just go from there,” Raso said.
The River Lions started out strong using a 10-0 run to built a 12-2 early lead. They maintained that 10-point lead and ended the first quarter up 23-13.
The two teams traded baskets for the first half of the second quarter but thanks to two assists and five points from Scrubb over a short stint, the River Lions built a 39-28 lead. Fraser Valley rallied late, scoring the last five points of the half to go into the dressing room trailing 42-36.
The Bandits came out strong in the second half and grabbed a 49-48 lead. Niagara rebounded, thanks to the scoring exploits of Daniel Mullings, and went into the fourth quarter ahead 64-60.
Fraser Valley tied the game at 69-69 near the halfway point of the final quarter and then Niagara outscored the Bandits 5-2 over the next few minutes to go into Elam time ahead 75-71.
With the winning score set at 84, Fraser Valley scored the first four points of Elan time to tie the score at 75-75 before Niagara rebounded with threes from Babb-Harrison and Lloyd Pandi to go up 81-77. Fraser Valley would scored the next four points to lead 82-81 and set the stage for Scrubb’s heroics.
River Lions 84 Bandits 82
BPSN Player of the Game: Niagara’s Phil Scrubb with 16 points including the game-winning three, seven assists and five rebounds.
For the Niagara River Lions: Javin DeLaurier, 20 points and 10 rebounds; Daniel Mullings, 17 points; Lloyd Pandi, 14 points; Jalen Babb-Harrison, 12 points.
For the Fraser Valley Bandits: Alex Campbell 19; Kenny Manigault 18; Shaquille Keith 11; Malcolm Divivier 10.
Game stats: Shooting percentage: Niagara 38; Fraser Valley 40. Free throws: Niagara 19-25; Fraser Valley 10-16. Rebounds: Niagara 41; Fraser Valley 55. Turnovers: Niagara 9; Fraser Valley 10.
Up next: The Niagara River Lions advance to the Canadian Elite Basketball League championship game Sunday at 2 p.m. in Edmonton.