River Lions split road trip; sign guard
The Niagara River Lions signed 6-foot-1 point guard Kimbal Mackenzie Tuesday.
No one on the Niagara River Lions was rejoicing after the Canadian Elite Basketball League return home from a western road swing with a 1-1 record.
Niagara opened the road trip with a 93-90 loss to the Winnipeg Sea Bears Thursday night before rebounding Sunday with a 90-75 triumph over the Saskatchewan Rattlers.
“It ended well,” Niagara head coach/GM Victor Raso said. “We played a more complete game at Saskatchewan but the taste in our mouth was pretty bad after the Winnipeg game.”
Against Winnipeg, after falling behind 29-25 after one quarter, Niagara built quarter leads of 55-44 and 71-66 before getting outscored 27-19 in the final quarter.
“We were up by a bunch and we felt like we were the better team and then we made a lot of mental mistakes, we kind of got down on ourselves when things weren’t going our way and we gave away a game that we really should have won,” he said.
Top scorers for Niagara against Winnipeg were Khalil Ahmad (24) Jahvon Henry-Blair (15), E.J. Onu (14), Patrick Whelan (11) and Antonio Davis Jr. (10).
Winnipeg was led by Teddy Allen (28), E.J. Anosike (21) and Jelani Watson-Gayle (19).
“The guys were upset about it, we talked about it a lot and the way we played the second, third and fourth quarters against Saskatchewan was good,” Raso said.
Versus Saskatchewan, Niagara trailed 23-16 after one quarter and 41-40 at the half before recording the victory by outscoring the Rattlers 50-34 in the second half.
Leading performers for Niagara were: Ahmad with 20 points; Edward Ekiyor with 19 points and 10 boards; T.J. Lall with 13 points; Davis with 10 points and eight rebounds; and, Henry-Blair with 10 points and five assists.
“Coming out of the road trip 1-1 was good. It was better than being 0-2 but we felt like we should have been 2-0.”
Raso still likes when his team is at just past the midway point in the season.
“We are in a good spot. I like the group, the group likes each other and they respond to me. We have to clean up some things.”
Number 1 on the list is to rebound better.
“When we lose we don’t rebound well and in pretty much every other statistical category we are top three across the league.”
Sitting at 6-6 and trailing Ottawa (8-5) and Scarborough (7-5) in their division, it’s time for the River Lions to get it rolling.
“We are one and a half games out of first and we are one game out of last and all eight of our remaining games are against the Eastern Conference,” Raso said. “They are essentially all double-point games and this is it. It is time for us and this road trip may have come at a good time in terms of us getting back on the same page and the guys organized into what we need to do. Now we need to actually get it done.”
Raso was hoping to have Phil Scrubb join the team shortly but he injured his calf and there is no set time for his return.
Niagara will get a reinforcement with the signing Tuesday of 6-foot-1 point guard Kimbal Mackenzie from Oakville. He most recently played with the Leicester Riders of the British BBL, where he averaged 12.7 points and 3.6 assists in 22.9 minutes per game.
“Kimbal is a leader, great teammate and a very good basketball player. I’m excited for him to join this group for the second half of the season,” Raso said.
The former Bucknell University scholarship player played with the Guelph Nighthawks from 2019 to 2022, averaging 13.2 points and 3.2 assists.
“I’m very excited to be joining the River Lions organization,” Mackenzie said. “Vic has created an awesome culture of winning here and I’m looking forward to playing with a great group of guys in front of a great fan base.”
Mackenzie replaces Aiden Warnholtz, who is temporarily leaving the River Lions to play with Canada’s under-23 squad.
Next up for the River Lions is a Wednesday road game against Brampton. Niagara will then host Brampton Friday at 7 p.m. at the Meridian Centre and Scarborough Sunday at 3 p.m.