River Lions clinch playoff spot
The Niagara River Lions broke open a close game with a furious rally in the fourth quarter to defeat the Fraser Valley Bandits 104-94 Thursday night in Canadian Elite Basketball League action at the Abbotsford Centre.
The River Lions out-scored the Bandits 40-29 in the final period, which included a 23-point outburst in the final three-and-a-half minutes of the game.
“(That’s) a ton of points to score in a short amount of time,” River Lions coach/general manager Victor Raso said. “We knew that was going to happen if we rebounded and defended and eventually we’d break through.”
The win improves Niagara’s league-leading record to 11-3 and guarantees the River Lions a spot in the (CEBL) championship weekend in Saskatoon Aug. 22-25. The River Lions become the first team in the league’s inaugural season to secure a playoff berth.
“This is one step closer to our goal of winning a championship,” Raso said. “I’m proud of what our team and organization has accomplished so far and we are excited to bring continued success to our fans in Niagara”
The Bandits, who got off to an 0-9 start, dropped to 3-10.
“We had a game plan going in,” Raso said. “We understood these guys were playing really well. They had won three in a row. They had changed things up and are a really good basketball team.
“They made a bunch of changes and have settled on a good, solid group of guys.”
Raso said the River Lions focused on the Bandits’ Marek Klassen, who rose to the occasion.
“We tried to make Marek a scorer instead of a passer and he did a really good job of scoring,” Raso said. “It almost backfired on us but we stayed the course with this group.”
Guillaume Payen-Boucard paced the River Lions with 25 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes of action. Sam Muldrow added 16, Yohanny Dalembert 14 and Alex Johnson 13.
Raso said the River Lions got contributions up and down the lineup.
“Sam (Muldrow) and Yo Yo (Dalembert) played really well. Ryan (Anderson) didn’t have his greatest game but he made some massive plays down the stretch,” Raso said. “Nem (Mitrovic), who hasn’t been playing great lately, came in with three-and-a-half minutes after not playing much in the game and made three incredible shots and made plays on the defensive end.
“It was a great team effort. We just said that they are going to break, just keep rebounding and defending.”
The River Lions are home to the Bandits Saturday, July 20.
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