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Nuga, Krikke vault Stingers back into first place with win over Bandits

Michael Nuga Edmonton Stingers Sam Maillet Vancouver Bandits Michael Nuga Sam Maillet - CEBL

A massive fourth quarter powered the Edmonton Stingers (10-4) past the Vancouver Bandits (9-4) on Saturday to regain first place in the Western Conference.

Stingers’ guard Michael Nuga came off the bench to drop 24 points and earn the 99-82 victory, including eight in Target Score Time and 17 in the fourth quarter overall.

He did it all in front of his parents, who were on his mind during a clutch three in Target Score Time.

“I know that they would have been mad if I missed it, so I just had to make sure that I went in…good reaction from them, so it was cool,” Nuga said.

“When they're here or when they're not here, I can always feel them supporting me. So it was nice to have them in the building and to play well at the same time and get a win.”

Nuga credits his teammates with the stellar performance.

“When I checked in the game, all they do is tell me to run and they're gonna find me,” he said.

Nuga wasn’t the only major contributor on Friday. With Brody Clarke out for Edmonton, Ben Krikke stepped into the starting lineup and didn’t miss a beat. He dropped 19 points on 9-11 shooting and limited Bandits star Nick Ward on the other end.

Nick Hornsby also stepped up with 16 points in Clarke’s absence, while Mindaugas Kačinas knocked down three triples off the bench, including the game-winner.

“Guys knew it’s the next man up,” Stingers Head Coach Jordan Baker said.

Vancouver missed a big man of its own on Friday, with James Karnik on injured reserve due to an appendectomy. The Bandits’ league-best offence was limited to just 12 points in the fourth quarter after keeping up with its usual pace in the opening 30 minutes.

Star-studded Vancouver starters Tazé Moore, Zach Copeland, Koby McEwen and Ward were each held under 20 points in the loss despite reaching double figures. Copeland finished with a team-best 17 points and six assists, while Moore still snagged nine rebounds to go along with 13 points.

Edmonton’s bench stepped up in a big way again, outscoring Vancouver’s by 31 for the second consecutive game. The Stingers were ultra-efficient offensively, shooting 59 per cent from the field and 55 per cent from three.

“When we get a paint touch early in the possession, that's going to open up things from the perimeter,” Baker said. “If we just stand around on the three and bomb away, it's a little bit of a different shot quality. So we did a good job getting the ball inside [and] making extra passes.”

Vancouver tallied 19 turnovers in Friday’s outing and lost both the rebounding and points in the paint battles.

The game began with both teams playing fast and loose. There were turnovers aplenty and it resulted in a high-scoring opening stanza.

Krikke scored the opening seven points for Edmonton while stepping into the starting lineup. Copeland also started the game red-hot for the other side with four trifectas in the first quarter.

After a transition slam from Vancouver forward Sam Maillet forced a Baker timeout, an Aaron Rhooms corner three and a buzzer-beater from Ryan Richmond took the Stingers into the break with a 30-22 lead.

Copeland passed the hot hand off to his teammate McEwen in the second quarter. McEwen connected on four triples of his own to complement some old-fashioned three-point plays from Ward and Duane Notice.

Unfortunately for the Bandits, the Stingers were on fire from long range as well. Edmonton hit six threes in the second quarter, maintaining the lead and halting each Vancouver run.

After McEwen cut the deficit to one late in the half, Edmonton went on an 8-0 run that included a pair of timely Hornsby buckets to head into the locker room.

Hornsby and McEwen led all scorers at the break with 14 points apiece, in addition to 12 points from Copeland.

Edmonton shot 65 per cent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, while Vancouver shot 55 per cent with eight threes on each side. Each team gave up the ball at a high rate with a near-equal number of turnovers, but the Stingers capitalized with nine more points off the mistakes.

To start the third, both teams cooled down from beyond the arc before back-to-back Edmonton threes broke the dry spell and extended the lead back to seven.

Vancouver tied it up twice in the third, but a pair of mid-range jumpers from Krikke closed another quarter strong for Edmonton and provided the Stingers with a 74-70 lead before the final frame.

The Bandits tied the game early in the fourth, but Nuga caught fire and led the Stingers on a 14-6 run to head into Target Score Time.

Nuga continued his clutch play when it mattered most with a corner three, an acrobatic finish,  and another trifecta to bring Edmonton one point from victory. Kačinas buried the game-winning three with one second left on the shot clock to deliver the season series for the Stingers.

What’s next?

Both teams return to action Sunday as the Stingers stay home for a matchup with the Brampton Honey Badgers at 7 p.m. MT, while the Bandits return to Vancouver to face the Saskatchewan Rattlers at 4 p.m. PT.