River Lions overcome slow start by beating Newfoundland 28-4 to open fourth quarter
The Rock didn’t turn out to be such a tough spot after all when the Niagara River Lions visited the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s easternmost team for the first time.
But their Friday night denunciation against the Newfoundland Growlers at Memorial University Field House in St. John’s didn’t start that way.
An eventual Niagara 95-87 victory, the team’s fifth straight, was not announced at first when Newfoundland, shooting 60% from the gate, took a 16-2 lead and led 20-9 before the second trimester.
Over the next 10 minutes, the St. Catharines visitors regained their shooting touch and perhaps synchronized their internal clocks to Newfoundland time, edging the Growlers 26-18 and trailing 38-35 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Growlers responded to every scoring run by the River Lions with a run of their own — and more. They led up to 18 points before heading into the fourth quarter 74-58.
Niagara needed only six minutes to beat Newfoundland 28-4 and go up for the first time in the game. With the target score set at 95, the River Lions entered the Elam Ending with an eight run they would never give up.
The behind-the-scenes victory lifted Niagara to 11-4 and second among the 10 teams, four points behind the Hamilton Honey Badgers (13-3) with one game less.
The Growlers, one of three expansion franchises to join the spring-summer pro league for its fourth season, fell to 0-2 to the River Lions and 2-12 overall. Niagara edged Newfoundland 98-97 to open the regular season home-and-away series on June 10 at the Meridian Center in St. Catharines.
Khalil Ahmad led the River Lions – and all scorers – in the rematch with 33 points. Antonio Davis Jr., 19; and Daniel Walden-Mullings, 15 points; also hit double digits in scoring for Niagara.
Minus Tutu added nine and Tidjan Keita contributed eight in the win.
Walden-Mullings and Davis led the River Lions in rebounding with 10 and seven, respectively.
Overall, Niagara outscored Newfoundland 43-32.
In his post-match comments, Ahmad said the team knew they had to lock themselves in after coming out “very slow”.
“We knew we just had to come together defensively,” he said. “We found ourselves defensively and we started getting baskets on offense.
“It feels good. I’m just glad we got the win.
Ahmad currently leads the CEBL with an average of 22.5 points per game, almost two more than Brandon Sampson of Newfoundland, 20.8 PPG.
Jaylen Babb-Harrison of Niagara leads the league in scoring percentage from beyond the three-point arc, 45.7; and EJ Onu of the River Lions is averaging a league-best 3.5 blocks per game.
Niagara wrapped up a road weekend Sunday night in Toronto against the Scarborough Shooting Stars (8-6).
The River Lions are scheduled to play three home games starting with a 7 p.m. caution on Friday against Scarborough. They host the Fraser Valley Bandits from Abbotsford, BC on Monday, July 25; and Hamilton on Friday, July 29.