River Lions stumble on home court
Home has been anything but sweet for the Niagara River Lions this season.
The River Lions dropped a 95-86 decision to the Fraser Valley Bandits in Canadian Elite Basketball League action Monday to fall to 5-4 at the Meridian Centre this season.
“Honestly, I don’t really know,” Niagara head coach Victor Raso said when asked about the team’s mediocre play on their home court. “When we’re on the road we seem to be locked in and when they’re presented with challenges they’re up for, they tend to be a little more locked in.
“It’s felt like it’s been a thing for us since this beginning of the year. Forty minutes is a tough thing for us. We got away with it for a while and then we had a stretch there where we were playing pretty well and then we added some new guys into the mix and we got into those same problems. Our energy being super locked in seems to be better on the road.”
It was a potentially costly loss for the River Lions who dropped their second straight to fall to 12-6 and now trail first-place Hamilton by one game with two regular season games remaining, both versus the Honey Badgers.
The River Lions need to win both to secure first place and bye into the championship weekend as the No. 1 seed to face the host Ottawa BlackJacks, who at 5-12 and with no opportunity to finish the regular season higher than seventh in the league standings, will be the fourth seed. The second and third seeds will be determined by preceding playoff games.
Raso acknowledged the River Lions are not hitting on all cylinders with the playoffs just around the corner.
“We’re just a little bit disjointed,” he said. “Part of that is a new situation, new guys, and we have to be better. We’re not there right now. We’ve regressed a little bit. We’ve got four days before we play Hamilton and we’re going to need to play really well against Hamilton twice and then go into the playoffs and be better.
“It’s not the trajectory you want to get going but it is what is.”
Raso would love to finish first and get the bye, but not to the exclusion of all else. The River Lions are only one game ahead of the Bandits and could finish anywhere from first to third.
“Honestly, I want to be playing better basketball and if we finish first because we win the next two games, great,” Raso said. “But we have to play good basketball. If we finish first and it’s fools gold and we show up in Ottawa and lose, we lose. If we lose one of the next two or two games but we get better, then we have a chance to go and win a playoff game to get to the final four.”
Raso said a recent shuffling of the roster may have something to do with the recent struggles.
“I think we were getting really good when we won those five games in a row and then we changed things up but we had to change things up,” he said. “EJ (Onu) is a big part of our team and bringing him back from Summer League was important. Shawn Occeus, when he was with us, was really good and we were playing a different way because we had specific styles on the floor and when we bring back EJ we have to do things a little bit differently and it takes a little bit of time. Same with Abu (Kijab). We got thrown into the fire a little bit with them and thought things we’re going to continue to progress, but now it’s on us as a coaching staff to make sure things work, to fix it, and it’s on the players to make sure they’re bought in and we get it right.”
The (CEBL) announced last week that the 2022 playoffs will begin Thursday, Aug. 4 with a pair of play-in games featuring four teams vying for a berth in the quarterfinals of the eight-team single elimination CEBL playoffs. The post-season culminates with the semifinals and final during CEBL Championship Weekend at TD Place Arena in Ottawa, August 12-14.
Bandits 95 River Lions 86
BPSN Star of the Game: Fraser Valley’s Maxie Esho with 27 points.
Fraser Valley Bandits: Esho 27; Malcolm Duvivier 15; Marek Klassen 14; Shane Gibson 14.
Niagara River Lions: Khalil Ahmad 22; Antonio Davis, Jr. 17; Elijah Mitrou-Long 11.
Up next: The River Lions host Hamilton Friday at 7 p.m. and visit the Honey Badgers Sunday at 2 p.m. to conclude the regular season.
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