River Lions get the job done
The Niagara River Lions are in the driver’s seat.
The River Lions control their own destiny in their quest finish first in the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s Eastern Conference following a convincing 97-82 victory Sunday afternoon in St. Catharines over the Ottawa Blackhawks.
Niagara improved to 11-7 with the victory while Ottawa dropped to 12-7 with the loss. The River Lions, who finish the regular season 3-1 versus Ottawa, have two games remaining in the regular season — home to the Montreal Alliance Friday, July 28 and on the road in Brampton the following day — and can first with a pair of wins.
Finishing first is critical since that team advances directly to the championship weekend in Vancouver. The second-place finisher in the conference hosts the winner of a game between the third and fourth-place teams to qualify for championship weekend.
“It’s massive,” River Lions coach/general manager Victory Raso said of placing first in the conference. “Whatever way you slice it you have to win at the end and be playing your best at the end, but to get a bye all the way to the Eastern Conference finals is huge.
“It’s massive. I’m not going to lie.”
Overall, Raso was thrilled with the performance.
“I’m really proud,” he said. “We needed to do this after the other day (win at Ottawa). It was an opportunity for the exact same thing to happen as last time when they came in here and had the mental edge because we had just beaten them at home.
“We talked about mental edge, mental edge, mental edge and we had it. We were good.”
The River Lions had four players in double digits in scoring — Khalil Ahmed (29), Jahvon Blair (18) Edward Ekiyor (13) and Alonzo Walker with 10.
“It’s great when the ball moves like that but we made a lot of shots, a lot of difficult shots, a lot of unassisted shots,” Raso said. “When we’re making shots like that we’re capable of putting up a ton of points like that and being good.”
Ahmed, the reigning league Most Valuable Player, also added six assists and two steals after finishing with just 10 points in their last game against Ottawa on Thursday.
“Khalil was obviously pissed about his performance the other day and make it very clear tonight he’s a scorer,” Raso added.
Raso also praised his club’s defensive effort.
“I was more happy with our defence, how we defended and stuck to the plan for the most part,” he said.
Ottawa has now lost back-to-back games for the first time since June 22, and have one game remaining in their regular season schedule, July 27 at home to the Vancouver Bandits.
River Lions 97 Blackjacks 82
BPSN Star of the Game: Niagara guard Khalil Ahmed with 29 points, six assists and two steals.
Niagara River Lions: Ahmed 29; Jahvon Blair 18; Edward Ekiyor 13; Alonzo Walker 10.
Ottawa Blackjacks: Kadre Gray 21; Jackson Rowe 19; Deng Adel 11.
Game stats: Shooting percentage: Niagara 56, Ottawa 44. Free throws: Niagara 12-19, Ottawa 16-18. Rebounds: Niagara 36, Ottawa 34. Turnovers: Niagara 16, Ottawa 13.
Up next: The River Lions are home to the Montreal Alliance Friday, July 28 and on the road in Brampton the following day to wrap up the regular season.
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