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River Lions defeat Shooting Stars to move into first place in East

Jahvon Blair Niagara River Lions Jahvon Blair - CEBL

Khalil Ahmad’s 18 points and five rebounds helped the Niagara River Lions (5-3) defeat the Scarbrough Shooting Stars (4-4) 81-78 Wednesday afternoon in a battle of two teams vying for the top spot in the eastern conference.

Ahmad, the two-time CEBL Clutch Player of the Year, made his season debut and picked up right where he left off last season, hitting a three-pointer to seal the Niagara win in Target Score Time.

“I was a little rusty, a little rough,” Ahmad said on his return and in-game performance. “But that’s to be expected, coming into a group of new guys like this, we all got to figure each other out, figure out the tendencies, and stuff like that. It’s all going to be going up from here.”

Jahvon Blair knows how important Ahmad’s return is for the team.

“He’s a big-time player, you guys saw what he did, he hit a big-time shot,” Blair said. “You know he makes it easier for us, and you know him coming just made it easier and we got the win.”

Blair also made an impact for the River Lions, scoring 17 points on 46 per cent shooting, grabbing five rebounds, and dishing out two assists.

In the loss, Donovan Williams poured in 29 points on 56 per cent shooting, knocked down three threes, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out four assists for the Shooting Stars.

Both teams came out hungry in the first quarter, trading buckets and matching each other’s energy. It was Blair who helped Niagara edge out a 23-17 first-quarter lead, scoring 10 points in the frame.

Niagara rode their momentum into the second and had an answer for everything Scarborough threw at them, turning it upon defence, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.

The River Lions’ bench also helped propel the team forward, outscoring Scarborough 23-6. Niagara ended off the half leading 48-39.

“Just trying to hold them to one shot,” Blair said about how Niagara prepared for Scarbrough defensively. “Last game they killed us on the second chance points, so we wanted to emphasize holding them to one shot.”

Despite being down by as many as 11 points in the third, Scarborough turned up the heat on both sides of the floor. They forced Niagara into mistakes and hit timely shots to cut the lead to 62-61 going into the fourth.

With both teams exchanging blows, it came down to the wire in the fourth. With the Target Score set at 81, the teams were tied at 78 before Ahmad’s heroics.

“Glad it went in,” Ahmad said about his game-winning shot. “They were playing a great game, we kind of slowed down a little bit. So, it was good to finish it off.”

Even though the River Lions came away with the victory, head coach Victor Raso still knows the team can improve going forward.

“We have to play good basketball over the course of a game, we had times where we were lackadaisical,” Raso said. “I thought defensively we tried for the most part but offensively, we had some issues with our flow and what we were to do. It’s not easy to incorporate a guy like Khalil [Ahmad] back into the lineup, but it's not much of an excuse. We have to play better basketball.”