By Justine Jones - August 1, 2021
The Niagara River Lions (7-4) avenged their Friday night loss to Guelph with a 89-69 victory over the Nighthawks (3-9) Sunday afternoon at the Sleeman Centre.
With the win, Niagara moves within two games of the Hamilton Honey Badgers for second place in the CEBL. Securing a top two seed will be crucial as these teams will look to receive a direct bye to the Championship weekend in Edmonton.
Although the Nighthawks led for most of the first half, Niagara kept the game close by attacking the basket. The River Lions went to the free-throw line 16 times in the first half compared to only four trips to the stripe for the Nighthawks. Niagara was led by big man Olu Ashaolu who has provided a solid interior presence for the team in the absence of Javin DeLaurier, who departed earlier this week for a mini camp with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Guillaume Payen-Boucard topped all scorers through twenty minutes with 11 first-half points. The Montreal, QC., native was active on both ends of the court, registering four rebounds and two steals to help the River Lions take the lead for the first time since it was 3-2 during the first two minutes of the game. Niagara went on a 12-4 run to close the second quarter, and led by two points at the break, largely thanks to a defensive stretch where they stopped Guelph on six-straight possessions.
“In that second quarter we finally started to settle into our fundamentals defensively and we started to get back to the team we were a while ago, but now our new guys are understanding it,”
said head coach Victor Raso.
“I just went in there (at the half) and said what you’re doing right now is the key to success and once our guys got the confidence that we are as good as we think we can be, that’s really what changed.”
The River Lions continued this momentum into the second half, using their defence to fuel their offence and went on a 17-1 run to open the third quarter. Back-to-back three-pointers by Jaylen Babb-Harrison extend Niagara’s lead to 18, its largest of the game. After Guelph cut the deficit down to three points, the River Lions punched back courtesy of a buzzer beater three-pointer by Thomas Scrubb. Scrubb finished with 17 points in the win. His brother, Phil Scrubb had 13 of his team high 19 points in the final frame, scored the Elam Ending winner, and finished with a game high eight assists.
“We defended a little better, especially in the second half,” said Phil Scrubb. “We got more cohesive as a unit, this is our second game with this group together and I thought we played well.”
Guelph started the game with the energy of a team still battling for a playoff spot. The Nighthawks won the battle on the boards in the first half, and this allowed the team to push the pace in transition. Guelph’s guards were dangerous on the fast-break, finishing in the paint and facilitating for their teammates. Aggressively driving to the basket drew in River Lions defenders and allowed for open looks for perimeter shooters.
A slow start to the second half saw the Nighthawks down 18, but the team countered with a 19-6 run of their own to cut the lead to six heading into the final frame. Ahmed Hill powered the comeback, tallying 11 of his game high 24 points in the third quarter. The former Greensboro Swarm guard was efficient, scoring in a variety of ways- from beyond the arc, in the key, and at the free-throw line. Hill’s backcourt partner, Kimbal Mackenzie added 12 points in the loss.
“When you have Ahmed Hill on your team, he competes so hard, he gives you everything every time on both ends of the floor. Every team needs an Ahmed Hill, or ten of them if you’re lucky,”
said head coach Charles Kissi.
“He competes and it’s a great compliment that you never feel like he’s cheated you, he gives you everything, every game and every practice. That’s the ultimate professional as far as I’m concerned.”
The Nighthawks (3-9) will travel to the nation’s capital this week to take on the Ottawa BlackJacks (4-7) on August 4 at 7:00 p.m. ET at TD Place. Guelph will then close out its 2021 regular season at home on August 6 at 7:00 p.m. also against the BlackJacks.
Next up for the Niagara River Lions (7-4) is back-to-back games against the Hamilton Honey Badgers (9-3). The River Lions will host the Honey Badgers on August 3 at the Meridian Centre, before travelling to the FirstOntario Centre on August 5 for the second half of the series.
All CEBL games will be available for live streaming on the CEBL’s new OTT streaming service, CEBL+, cbcsports.ca, the free CBC Gem streaming service, the CBC Sports App for iOS and android devices, and on Twitch.
A league created by Canadians for Canadians, the CEBL has the highest percentage of Canadian players of any professional league in the country, with 75 percent of its current rosters being Canadians. Players bring experience from the NBA, NBA G League, top international leagues, the Canadian National team program, and top NCAA programs as well as U SPORTS. The only First Division Professional League Partner of Canada Basketball, the CEBL season typically runs from May through August. Head to CEBL.ca for more information or follow us on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, Facebook & YouTube.