Hamilton Honey Badgers’ loss and a statement win by St. Catharines’ River Lions tightens CEBL race


Published July 18, 2022 at 11:02 am

Hamilton native Victor Raso has the Niagara River Lions honing the defending-and-depth dynamic that tends to win in the end in basketball.

The River Lions, thanks to a statement win and a Hamilton Honey Badgers defeat, are right on the bumper of their QEW rival — a half-game back with a game in hand — in the first-place race in the Canadian Elite Basketball League with two weeks to go. Guard Khalil Ahmad is the CEBL’s top scorer at 22.4 points per game, and Ajax native Jaylen Babb-Harrison is first in three-point shooting at 45.4 per cent. The St. Catharines-based River Lions, who are on a six-win streak, are also No. 1 in scoring at 90.4 points per game.

The way, though, the River Lions got after the Scarborough Shooting Stars during a nationally televised 93-70 win on Sunday night was telling. Niagara bodied and harried host Scarborough into 23 turnovers. The River Lions, conversely, gave away the ball a season-low-matching eight times. That added up to trying 22 more shots than the Shooting Stars. Ahmad and Mississauga native Elijah Mitrou-Long each tallying a joint game-high 20 points. Raso also managed a nine-man rotation, with everyone playing at least 13 minutes and no one logging 30.

Mitrou-Long got his 20 in under 23 minutes, without being charged with a turnover and while sharing the team lead in steals. Niagara was also plus-20 when guard Munis Tutu was on the court getting Scarborough (8-7) out of its flow offensively. Tutu, Mitrou-Long, Shawn Occeus and veteran forward Daniel Walden-Mullings each had three steals toward Niagara’s tally of 14. The River Lions are leading the CEBL in steals (9.4) and blocked shots (4.5).

Capturing the CEBL title involves playing two physical, fast-paced games in three days on the league’s championship weekend. Defensive play, and durable and deep tends to come to the fore in that setting, especially since the international FIBA rules are much more forgiving of physicality than the NBA and Division 1 major-college basketball in the United States.

Scarborough (8-7), whose rotation includes Hamilton native Jean-Victor Mukama, was as close as 10 points late in the third quarter. Niagara forced a 13-3 putaway run where Occeus finished at the rim twice.

Mukama had a notable Hamilton homecoming last week, with 12 points and four assists during Scarborough’s defeat against the Honey Badgers on July 14.

QEW rivals on collision course

Hamilton (13-4) and Niagara (12-4) will have a bit of a dress rehearsal for CEBL Championship Weekend in two weeks. The result of their home-and-home on July 29 and 31 will decide who earns the first-place bye into the CEBL championship weekend (Aug. 12 and 14 at Ottawa).

The Honey Badgers’ own six-win streak ended in an 88-81 defeat against the Edmonton Stingers at home at FirstOntario Centre on Sunday afternoon. Koby McEwen talled a game-high 22 points with 64.3% effective shooting boosted by four triples. Floor leader and Burlington native Caleb Agada hooped 16 points and made six steals to add his lead in that category.

The Honey Badgers were at the end of a spate of five games in 11 days without their best post player, Jeremiah Tilmon Jr., and best shooter, Christian Vital. Both have been playing in the NBA Summer League. That competition wrapped up on Sunday, opening the door to a return.

Edmonton (9-7), the two-time defending CEBL champions, is lurking in fourth place. Crafty captain Jordan Baker nearly had a triple-double on Sunday with 11 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, while playing a game-high 42 minutes.

Tipoffs on tap

The River Lions have a wraparound homestand at the Meridian Centre. They host Scarborough on Friday (July 22) and the third-place Fraser Valley Bandits on Monday (July 25). Both are 7 p.m. starts.

Hamilton has a one-game week, on the court where they hope to be in mid-August. The Honey Badgers face the Ottawa Blackjacks on Sunday (July 24, 2 p.m.).

All CEBL games are streamed at cbcsports.ca, CBC Gem and the CEBL+ Live app.

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