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New-look Honey Badgers come back to clip Alliance in wild finish

Brampton Honey Badgers Prince Oduro, Shamiel Stevenson - CEBL

A renovated Honey Badgers squad appears to have come together quickly.

Brampton came back from down 12 points at half to beat the Montreal Alliance 90-87 on Friday at Verdun Auditorium.

The Honey Badgers improved to 4-8 with the loss, while Montreal fell to 3-9.

Brampton has now won just two of its past 10 games – both against the Alliance.

In the aftermath of their latest loss against Scarborough, the Honey Badgers made major roster changes, releasing the NBA-experienced Javonte Cooke in addition to stretch big Lucas Siewert while signing CEBL veterans Elijah Mitrou-Long and Michael Okafor.

Okafor started but played just 16 minutes, contributing six points and two rebounds with a team-high mark of plus-12. Mitrou-Long provided a spark with six first-quarter points off the bench en route to game totals of 11 points and eight assists.

After falling behind 59-47 at halftime, Brampton appeared to find its defensive identity in the second half, limiting Montreal to 15 and 13 points in each of the final quarters as it slowly made its way back into the ballgame.

By the end of the third, the Honey Badgers were within four points. By Target Score Time, they led 81-79.

Tied at 85, both teams suddenly found themselves in offensive ruts, combining for six consecutive missed shots. The Alliance moved within a possession of victory on a pair of free throws from Jordan Bowden, but the Honey Badgers’ L.J. Thorpe answered with two of his own.

Montreal’s Freddy Ibrahim then missed a potential game-winning three-pointer. Two possessions later, Brampton’s Shamiel Stevenson drained a stepback triple to give Brampton the victory.

“I just fed off the energy of my teammates, and the rest is history,” Stevenson told sideline reporter Gabriela Hebert after the game.

Stevenson finished with a game-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds, and Yaw Obeng-Mensah added 15 off the bench for Brampton.

Mitrou-Long, who played nearly 30 minutes, said he was just trying to stay out of the way of his new teammates in crunch time.

“We just knew we would figure it out down the stretch, just needed to stay close. I am new and finding my rhythm, so I know it had to be the other players that have been here to make those decisions,” he said.

Head coach Sheldon Cassimy said the comeback was a result of the team’s struggles earlier in the season.

“We’ve gone through a lot of adversity. And there was a lot of adversity in the game, and we’ve been tested already so we were able to stick together and keep playing hard until the end of the game.”

He added that while the victory was a full team effort, he was happy with how Okafor and Mitrou-Long changed the dynamic.

“We’re able to get out in transition a little bit more with Mike and have some more defensive pressure and a guy in Elijah who can create for others and create for his own, so I think that’s a big difference for us,” Cassimy said.

The Alliance, who as hosts of Championship Weekend receive an automatic playoff invite, have now lost four games in a row. Guard Chris Smith, the team’s second-leading scorer with 17.8 points per game, was out Friday with an injury.

Jordan Bowden led the team with 19 points, including all of Montreal’s eight in Target Score Time. Guillaume  Payen-Boucard stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six steals – the second-most ever in a single game.

Captain Ahmed Hill added 18 points and five rebounds. He said the team was felled by its lack of stops in the second half.

“We played kind of lackadaisical. So we’re just trying to figure that out right now. They killed us on the glass by 14 so that wasn’t the game plan,” Hill said.

Head coach Derrick Alston Sr., theorized that the lack of stakes with a semifinals spot already sewn up may be contributing to the Alliance’s diminished urgency.

“The effort was there, but I told the guys in the locker room they don’t give out trophies for participation,” he said. “This is your job. It’s a shame. We had plenty of opportunities in [Target Score Time] but basketball is a team game, kinda need everyone to participate.”

Montreal’s Boucard, Ibrahim and Elijah Ifejeh combined for 38 points in the first half but were held scoreless in the second.

The game marked the 100th in the history of the Honey Badgers franchise, including playoffs. The team, which spent four seasons in Hamilton before relocating to Brampton, holds a 52-48 all-time record.

What’s next?

Brampton returns home to host the Scarborough Shooting Stars on Sunday, while Montreal heads to Ottawa for a date with the BlackJacks on Thursday.