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Karnik Plays Hero as Bandits top Shooting Stars


After missing the entire 2023 CEBL season due to injury, James Karnik has returned with a vengeance.

The Surrey, B.C. native scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter as he willed the Vancouver Bandits (2-0) to a rallying 88-83 win over the Scarborough Shooting Stars (0-2) on Sunday night.

Karnik not only scored the Bandits first 10 points in the fourth quarter – giving the team its first lead since the 2:37 mark of the second – the forward also went on to hit the game-winner in Target Score Time. After the heroic outing, general manager and head coach Kyle Julius couldn’t help but commend the 25-year-old’s performance in front of his hometown crowd.

“His energy, effort and enthusiasm was just through the roof,” said Julius. “His ability to just will a play, use his mental toughness, to never give up and just outwork people is incredible.

Vancouver got multiple strong contributions on the night as they remained undefeated, with all five starters scoring in double figures. Tazé Moore led the way with a team-high 19 points to go with eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. Meanwhile, Nick Ward and Koby McEwen chipped in with 18 and 17 points, respectively.

On the other side, the defending champs were spearheaded by Jackson Rowe for a second consecutive game as the 2023 CEBL All-Canadian notched a double-double of 20 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Tevian Jones added 16 points while Jalen Adaway scored 13 points off the bench in his CEBL debut.

Entering the night, the game was billed as a matchup between two of the league’s top three-point shooting teams as Vancouver and Scarborough combined for 79 attempted triples through their respective first games. Yet the first quarter of Sunday’s matinee was anything but as both squads shot sub-30 per cent from distance and made just eight shots a piece.

The defensive clinic resulted in more turnovers from each team than made threes as the Bandits and Shooting Stars went into the second quarter tied 20-20.

Vancouver remained in that shooting slump throughout the second quarter while Scarborough proved their league-best three-point shooting percentage through game one was no fluke. The Shooting Stars hit nine threes in the frame on a 50 per cent clip, subsequently earning themselves a five-point lead at the break. Jones hit three of his five long-balls in the frame for all nine of his first half points.

Despite trailing, the Bandits were getting strong performances with McEwen, Moore and Ward all scoring over 10 points through two quarters. Why they were lagging behind was the fact they were matching the Shooting Stars threes with twos.

And once the third quarter got underway, it looked like the 2023 champs were going to pull away for win No. 1 on the season as they opened up a double-digit lead courtesy of a 10-2 run.

Yet Vancouver – like they had done in their season-opening win against Montréal – found a way to respond when they needed it most. The Bandits punched back with a 10-2 run of their own followed by Kur Jongkuch hosting an unexpected block party. The South Sudanese forward swatted three shots in the span of two minutes to give the Bandits the necessary stops to get within striking distance. His defensive effort, along with a pair of threes from McEwen and Copeland, brought the game to 69-67 heading into the fourth.

“He changed the game,” Julius said on Jongkuch’s impact towards the end of the third. “We have a saying, ‘One possession can change a game’ and he really demonstrated that tonight. In the five minutes of playing time, he really sparked us.”

Once Target Score Time arrived, the score was knotted up at 79 points each (largely thanks to Karnik), and Scarborough was looking to hold on for their first win of the season while trying not to think about how they failed to execute in a similar situation just two days prior.

Against the Winnipeg Sea Bears, after leading for a majority of that contest, the Shooting Stars ultimately came up short in a crushing three-point loss. A couple of crucial misplays down the stretch – like missing two game-winning free throw attempts – cost them, and they were hoping to avoid that same fate on Sunday night.

Unfortunately for them, it ended up being more of the same. Scarborough committed three turnovers through the final handful of possessions and gave Vancouver just enough momentum to sneak away with the narrow victory. Kadre Gray’s fifth turnover on the night was scooped up by the Bandits and eventually made its way to Karnik for a layup to end the game.

“We’ve shown how we want to play,” Shooting Stars head coach Devan Blair said postgame reflecting on his team’s inability to close out games so far. “But we can’t just do it for four-minute spurts, we have to be able to sustain it for an entire game.”