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River Lions cruise to win over Surge, stay undefeated at home

Niagara River Lions vs. Calgary Surge Niagara River Lions vs. Calgary Surge - CEBL

A season-best offensive performance from the Niagara River Lions (8-5) led them to a near-wire-to-wire 109-89 win over the Calgary Surge (6-7) on Thursday night.

Niagara shot an identical 53 per cent from the field and from beyond the arc, drilling 15 threes and leading by as many as 25 points en route to their highest scoring total of the season. The victory also improved the River Lions to 5-0 at home this season – one of just two teams that remain undefeated in front of their own fans.

Leading the charge was Jahvon Blair who finished with 25 points and five assists, shooting 5-of-7 from deep. The team’s leading scorer was backed up by TJ Lall’s 19 points, Khalil Ahmad’s 16 and near double-double efforts by Elijah Lufile (10 points, eight rebounds) and Aaryn Rai off the bench (12 points, eight assists).

“The fans make us want to play,” Blair said after the game when asked about Niagara’s perfect home record. “Just going out there and playing for them … there’s no other (crowd) like this.”

On the other side, the second night of a back-to-back proved too big of an obstance for the Surge to overcome on Thursday. Stef Smith led the team in scoring, putting up 19 points off the bench, with Corey Davis Jr. right behind as he dropped 17. The duo struggled holding onto the rock, however, as they combined for 10 of Calgary’s 18 turnovers on the night. Malcolm Duvivier also chipped in with 13 points off the bench while shooting 3-of-5 from distance.

Meanwhile, the Surge’s leading scorer Sean Miller-Moore had one of his quietest games of the season as he finished with four points and two turnovers in 17 minutes of action.

No one appeared happier to be back in Niagara than Blair, as he bounced back in a big way in front of the Meridian Centre crowd.

After putting up just seven points in their previous outing, going 0-of-8 from the field, the Brampton, Ont. native responded by surpassing that output within the first quarter on Thursday night. By the end of the opening 10 minutes, Blair had scored 11 points, going 4-of-6 from the field and hitting three triples.

His hot start sparked an 11-0 run that Niagara used to lead 31-20 by the end of the quarter.

“I told myself before the game that I have to play well and be consistent,” Blair said after the win when asked what his mindset was leading into the turnaround performance. “I feel like I did that and I’m glad we got the win … after I hit my first and second shots, I knew I was going to have one of those games.”

And the runs didn’t stop there. The River Lions not only finished the first frame on a 6-0 run, but they also carried it into the second, pushing it to a 19-4 run. And by the end of the scoring outburst, Niagara had gone up by as many as 22 points before they led 60-42 at the break.

Blair, like he did through the first quarter, continued to spearhead the effort as he finished the half with a game-high 20 points, shooting over 50 per cent from the field and distance. He was just two points shy of single-handedly matching the scoring production of Calgary’s entire starting lineup through 20 minutes.

And despite the Surge’s best efforts, like Kamba hitting a three at the 5:42 mark of the third to cut the deficit to 16 points, they couldn’t slow down the River Lions on the offensive end – especially from distance. Niagara drilled five threes in the third as they extended their lead to 83-63 by the end of the frame.

“It was great,” River Lions head coach Victor Raso said postgame when asked about Blair’s performance. “He had a tough road trip … he came ready to play tonight. It shows his resilience, he set the tone.”

Niagara would’ve taken a 25-point lead into Target Score Time had it not been for a heads up play by Smith. The veteran guard baited Lall with a pump fake beyond the arc that led to three free throws he calmly knocked down to put his team’s deficit to 99-77.

That show of resilience seemed to spark the Surge as they scored 12 points in Target Score Time, but it wasn’t enough to re-kindle the type of defence required to make a comeback and had previously won them four games in a row.

Niagara missed just three shots in the stoppage period before Ahmad, the reigning Clutch Player of the Year, added to a long list of game-winners by drilling a deep three. The import scored eight of the River Lions’ 10 Target Score points.

Calgary kept up offensively, shooting a serviceable 46 per cent from the field and an impressive 41 per cent from distance. But the defence that had held opponents to below 84 points per game for the last 30 days was nowhere to be seen.

The Surge hadn’t conceded 100 points or more in back-to-back games since their 0-3 start, but that streak came to an end after giving up 108 and now 109 to Brampton and Niagara in the span of 48 hours.

Up next

The Surge will return to action on Tuesday as they wrap up a six-game road trip by visiting the Edmonton Stingers for the final CEBL Battle of Alberta game this regular season.

For the River Lions, they’ll stay put and host the Ottawa BlackJacks on Saturday for an Eastern Conference showdown.