River Lions close regular season victorious
Bolstered by their home crowd, the Niagara River Lions completed the Canadian Elite Basketball League regular season Sunday afternoon by defeating the visiting Ottawa BlackJacks 89-79.
Tommy Scrubb, who had 15 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in the win, gave full credit to Niagara fans.
“It brings a lot more energy to the game and it is a lot more fun too,” he said. “Most of this year until maybe May or June, even in Europe it was a lot of empty gyms. It adds a lot to my game and it adds a lot to the overall experience too.”
Niagara head coach Victor Raso echoed those comments.
“It is awesome here. I love the setup too. I know the fans are kind of tight on the other side but having us being on centre stage almost with fans everywhere going nuts, our guys feed off of that and our bench has so much energy when we are at home,” he said. “We have the best arena in the league and our fans keep proving why we are good at home.”
Niagara finished 6-1 at home in 2021 after going 8-2 at the Meridian Centre in the pre-pandemic season of 2019.
Raso feels his team gets a big boost from the hometown crowd.
“Omigosh yes. You get some energy from someone else other than yourself.”
Niagara River Lions president Jeffrey Sotiriou described Niagara’s fans as the best in the entire CEBL.
“The players feed off the energy they provide us, night in and night out,” he said. “In a season with so much uncertainty surrounding the ability to have fans in the building, Niagara showed unwavering support, reaching capacity limits, almost every single game this season.”
The entire organization was thrilled with that support.
“It is incredibly gratifying. We are humbled and thankful for the amount of support Niagara has shown us, not only this year but through the entire pandemic and return to play with fans,” he said.
Sotiriou is looking forward to future years in Niagara.
“Since our inception, the Meridian Centre has been one of the road teams’ toughest buildings to play in,” he said. “We are already looking forward to seeing all of our fans in the building in May of 2022, giving us the competitive advantage, the fans provide.”
With Sunday’s win, Niagara achieved the second of two goals it has set for the regular season. The first was to clinch a bye to the semifinals by finishing second and the other goal was to reach double-digit wins. Niagara finished the regular season with a 10-4 record following their flapjacking of the BlackJacks.
The River Lions trailed 19-18 after one quarter, led 40-36 at the half and built a 69-57 margin heading into the final frame.
“I knew the energy was going to be tough to start and both of us are just playing for the sake of playing at this point,” Raso said. “We matched their energy and in the third quarter we kind of took over the energy battle and made some more plays. Those are tough ones but we came out of it unscathed and got to 10 wins. That was good for us.”
He was glad the team had already clinched second place and the semifinal bye before Sunday.
“It got us to Edmonton without that quarter-final game. That quarter-final game is scary.We get some time off and guys get to heal up a little bit and go for it there”
Niagara will have a healthy lineup heading west.
“We’re not banged up,” Raso said. “The guys are just tired. We had four games in seven days — something crazy like that — and four of them were pretty much elimination games for us trying to get the second seed. Today was a huge bounceback because I knew that were exhausted.
“We will give them a rest until Thursday and just go from there.”
Niagara has played a lot of stressful games down the stretch.
“With the Elam ending, it’s just a constant playoff game after playoff game,” Rao said. “I feel this group of guys is well-prepared for elimination games.”
It started when the River Lions beat Hamilton on its home court to clinch second.
“That was a playoff atmosphere with playoff stakes on the line,” Raso said. “I think we are battle-tested. We played four different teams in the last couple weeks and we are ready to go.”
Next up for the team is the league championship semifinals Friday, Aug. 20 at the Edmonton Expo Centre. The squad will leave for Alberta Aug. 17.
River Lions 89 BlackJacks 79
BPSN Star of the Game: Niagara’s Thomas Scrubb with 15 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
For the Niagara River Lions: Guillaume Payen-Boucard 16; Thomas Scrubb and Jaylen Babb-Harrison 15; Lloyd Pandi 11.
For the Ottawa BlackJacks: Tyrell Green and Nick Ward 16; Kadre Gray 12.
Game stats: Shooting percentage: Niagara 44.6, Ottawa 49.2. Free throws: Niagara, Ottawa. Rebounds: Niagara 43, Ottawa 40. Turnovers: Niagara 14-22, Ottawa 7-16.
Up next: The league championship semifinals will be played Aug. 20 in Edmonton.