River Lions take two of three on East Coast
The Niagara River Lions completed a three-game Maritimes road swing Sunday afternoon with a 113-109 overtime victory over the Cape Breton Highlanders in National Basketball League of Canada action.
Earlier in the trip, the River Lions lost 122-102 to the Island Storm and defeated the Saint John Riptide 97-95.
“We are real happy to get that one,” said River Lions head coach/GM Joe Raso, who saw his team climb to 6-4 with the victory.
Niagara trailed by as many as 20 points in the first half but rallied to get Cape Breton’s lead down to 10 before halftime.
The River Lions came into the game missing Dwayne Smith with an injury and then lost Marvel Waithe in third quarter after he took an elbow to the nose.
“We had to come back, gut it out and go into overtime,” Raso said. “It came down to a missed dunk and us getting the rebound and icing them on the free-throw line. It was a helluva game.”
The River Lions fell behind 33-21 to Cape Breton Sunday, somewhat mirroring the first quarter against the Island Storm, where they trailed 36-14 after the first quarter.
“There’s no question about it that we have to address that and we’re hoping some of these wins will address that,” Raso said of the slow starts.
He described the Maritimes sojourn as a trip from hell.
“We go to P.E.I., then we go four hours the opposite direction and then we had to come all the way to Cape Breton,” Raso said. “You can’t have a road trip worse than that and right now slow starts are the least of my worries. I need healthy bodies.”
Jaylon Tate led Niagara against Cape Breton with 25 points and eight assists. Also contributing to the win were: Guillaume Boucard, 22 points and nine rebounds; Omar Strong, 23 points; and, Sam Muldrow, 13 points and nine rebounds. Top scorers for Cape Breton with 18 points were Haakim Johnson, Tydran Beaty and Shayne Osayande.
Against the Storm, leading the way for the River Lions were: Waithe, 25 points; Boucard, 23 points and 10 boards; Strong, 14 points; and, Muldrow, 12 points and nine rebounds. Top scorers for the Storm were Tyler Scott (26), Du’Vaughn Maxwell (21) and Andre Stringer (21).
Niagara out-scored Saint John 34-27 in the fourth quarter to record its first road victory of the season. Top performers for Niagara were: Muldrow, 25 points and eight boards; Connor Wood, 23 points; Tate, 12 points and 13 assists; and, Waithe, 17 points. Leading scorers for the Riptide were Mariek Isom (31) and Gabe Freeman (23).
Making his debut for the River Lions this week was 6-foot-8, 225-pound power forward Jaywuan Hill. The former Southwest Baptist player was a First Team All-Star last season with the Hochiminh City Wings of the Vietnam Basketball Association and was playing this year in Vietnam with the Thang Long Warriors before joining Niagara.
Hill joined the River Lions on the trip after spending 27 hours on planes or in airports.
“We had to play him in key situations,” Raso said. “Talk about great character and someone giving up everything that he had.”
Niagara’s run of seven straight road games to close out 2017 continues Thursday in Windsor and Friday in London.
“I don’t know if you can call it rest but we have to fly home and get back at it Thursday,” Raso said. “We have to grind it out Thursday and Friday and then we will get a couple of days off for Christmas.”
Next home game for the River Lions is Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Meridian Centre versus the London Lightning.