Fraser Valley Bandits rode a strong fourth quarter to a 95-86 road victory over the Niagara River Lions.
The Bandits (11-7) moved within one game of Niagara (12-6) for second place as they won their second straight game. The River Lions lost their second straight game.
The game took place Wednesday, July 25 at Meridian Centre, St. Catharines.
The Bandits were playing without forward James Karnik as Maxie Esho replaced him in the starting lineup. Esho kicked off the game with a dunk. Niagara’s Khalil Ahmad responded with a three-pointer in rhythm before taking a charge.
The game was close throughout the first quarter with both teams making defensive stops and scoring in transition.
The River Lions took a 23-14 lead going into the second quarter after seven straight points by Elijah Mitrou-Long. Both clubs crashed the offensive boards as Fraser Valley attacked inside. Bandits forward Thomas Kennedy and Esho scored layups to give the Bandits the lead as they scored 14 straight points.
Fraser Valley continued to execute offensively, moving the ball to get good looks at the rim. Kennedy and Esho had open dunks, while Ahmad led the Niagara offence by scoring inside and out. The home team made a 4-0 run and entered the half-time break trailing 47-45.
Niagara came into the third quarter attacking the rim as E.J. Onu, Antonio Davis Jr. and Jaylen Babb-Harrison all scored down low to retake the lead. The teams traded baskets as Davis Jr. and Alex Campbell both hit threes. Fraser Valley took the lead 72-66 heading into the final frame.
The Bandits started the fourth quarter hot and took a double-digit lead as Esho and Kennedy scored off put backs. Fraser Valley led 86-79 going into the Elam Ending.
Malcolm Duvivier nailed back-to-back threes for Fraser Valley while Niagara got to the foul line multiple times. Kennedy added a dunk and Shane Gibson sank the game-winning free throw.
“Malcolm’s threes were really big,” said Bandits head coach Mike Taylor. “When you have players making big plays in those moments, it really gives you a spark.”
Fraser Valley had six players contribute double digit scoring efforts, including Esho with 27 points, eight rebounds (six offensive) and two steals. The Bandits shot 50 per cent from the field, compared to 43 per cent for the River Lions.
Marek Klassen recorded a game-high 11 assists as part of a double-double performance.
“Being short-handed, I’m really proud of the way the guys battled and fought together,” Taylor said.
The River Lions also had six players with double figures in points. Ahmad (22 points) and Davis Jr. (17) led the way in scoring while Mitrou-Long led the team with seven assists.
“We see what we can do in spurts,” Babb-Harrison said. “When we’re all focused and locked in, when we defend, we rebound, we can all see that we’re probably the best team in the league but we pick and choose our times. We’ve got to do that for 40 minutes.”
Niagara missed an opportunity to tie the Hamilton Honey Badgers for first place. Now they will have to beat Hamilton twice to close out the regular season in order to finish first.
The Bandits sit third in the Canadian Elite Basketball League standings with two crucial games remaining. First up is a tilt against the Scarborough Shooting Stars on Thursday, July 28 at 4:30 p.m. PT followed by Fraser Valley’s regular season finale versus the Edmonton Stingers this Saturday, July 30.
Is there more to the story? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.