Khalid Ahmad made an instant impact in his return as his 17-point double-double led the Niagara River Lions (1-3) to a 116-74 win over the Saskatchewan Rattlers (1-1) on Saturday night.
The reigning CEBL MVP played in his first game of the season after finishing up his overseas commitments, andh hit the ground running. Ahmad ended the night with a near triple-double, tallying 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
“I just try to open the game up for everyone,” said Ahmad post-game. “Being the point guard and having the ball in my hands I’m just trying to make sure everyone stays involved and stays confident.”
His effort to instill confidence in his teammates seemed to pay off as the River Lions had six different players hit double-digits on the night. Jahvon Henry-Blair scored 21 points, knocking down five threes to go with six rebounds and four assists. Captain Antonio Davis Jr. also chipped in with 20 points and seven rebounds.
On the other side it was Justin Wright-Foreman who did as much as he could to keep the Rattlers in it by scoring 21 points while shooting over 50 percent from the field and distance. He was aided by Michael Nuga who had 12 points and three assists off the bench.
The River Lions started the game with an intensity they hadn’t shown in their three previous losses. The team forced seven first-quarter turnovers, generating 11 points off their defensive effort.
“Our focus was to get out and punch them in the mouth as soon as the game started,” Ahmad said. “It’s easier to play from ahead than from behind.”
The team took a 30-23 lead going into the second quarter where defense quickly turned to offense for Niagara as they caught fire. They went on a 23-9 run, all within six minutes. The team finished the frame scoring 41 points, the most for them in any quarter this season, while limiting Saskatchewan to 15.
Everything was clicking for the River Lions through the first half as they outshot their opponents from the field, distance and the charity stripe.
A major factor in Niagara’s early success this game was their shooting from beyond the arch. The team came into this game shooting a woeful 25.7 per cent from three on just seven makes a game. Through two quarters the River Lions had already knocked down 10 threes on an efficient 58 per cent. Henry-Blair was a major part of that as he scored 11 points in the frame, knocking down three triples in the process.
At half-time Niagara led 71-38 over Saskatchewan, the 33-point margin was the River Lions largest lead in any game this season.
Coming out the break they picked up right where they left off, turning defense into offense. Niagara kept forcing turnovers and generating instant offense as a result. The team started the third quarter by knocking down three triples extending a lead that got as high as 42 points.
The Rattlers didn’t go out quietly as they did show some fight in the back half of the third quarter. Down 41, the team called a time-out and found some energy, going on a 20-6 run to end the frame, cutting the lead down to 27 points.
Despite their resiliency, the Rattlers weren’t able to get any closer as they mustered only five points through six minutes of the fourth quarter. On the other side, the River Lions strapped in and extended their lead back up to 36 points as the teams headed into Target Score Time.
The Target Score period aptly ended the same way the game started. It was defense leading to offense for the River Lions as they forced two turnovers for the final four points of the frame, taking the 116-74 win.
The River Lions turned 21 turnovers by the Rattlers into 33 points, a +18 advantage over Saskatchewan on the night. A strategy they had made their road map coming into the matchup.
“The game plan was to make sure Justin Wright-Foreman always saw two bodies,” said Niagara head coach Victor Raso after the game. “Get the ball to the other players, and once it did, pressure them. Make them have to be the guys to make plays.”
It was Ahmad who ended things when he turned a steal into a transition dunk for his first Target Score winner of the season, picking up right where he left off a year ago. The guard had 10 Target Score winners last season to lead the league in that category.
The scoring outburst by Niagara was the most points scored by any team so far this season, ironically outpacing the 109 points Saskatchewan put up in their previous win.
The Rattlers have a quick turnaround as they’ll stay on the road to take on the Scarborough Shooting Stars tomorrow night. The River Lions will have five days rest and then continue their four-game homestand on Thursday where their next opponent will also be Scarborough.