The Niagara River Lions’ role players stepped up in their final game of the regular season to lead the squad to an 82-72 win over the Brampton Honey Badgers at CAA Centre on Saturday.

It’s the fourth consecutive win for Niagara as they sweep the season series with Brampton. It snapped a two-game winning streak for the Honey Badgers in their final home game this summer.

“I was really proud of the way in the second half, we just got back to our fundamentals,” Niagara head coach Victor Raso said.  “It seemed like we were playing the basketball we've been playing all year, which is awesome because it means there's a togetherness [with] the group and a standard of how we do things.”
The River Lions and Honey Badgers each had their seeds for the CEBL Playoffs clinched prior to the contest, which resulted in several players receiving rest.

“I think we both were trying to give our guys some extra playing time and get our starters out of there,” Brampton head coach Antoine Broxsie said. “I'm trying to give .. new guys more reps and just work on the game. I'm playing to win, but at the same time, I'm also trying to play to win for the long game.”

Niagara stars Khalil Ahmad, Jahvon Blair and Antonio Davis Jr. all rested on Saturday with Prince Oduro sitting out for Brampton. Christian Vital started the game but played just under five minutes while Koby McEwen played 23 minutes.

However, the supporting cast for both squads stepped up. After stuffing the stat sheet against the Alliance last night, TJ Lall had another impactful outing for the River Lions. The forward tallied a game-high 18 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and a block.

“I feel like we're all together all the time,” Lall said after the game.  “Our defence picked up throughout the season and we're gaining trust with each other.”

Niagara’s Kimbal MacKenzie took over starting point guard duties for Ahmad and filled in admirably. He scored 17 points and dished seven assists to direct the Niagara offence. Sharpshooter Patrick Whelan also contributed off the bench with 14 points on 4-15 shooting while Shawn Occeus chipped in eight points, six rebounds, five steals and the game-winning free throw.

On the other side, Zane Waterman paced the Brampton offence. The well-rounded forward did well in under 20 minutes of action, scoring a team-best 18 points while hauling in eight rebounds. Tyrell Green had the green light off the bench and splashed four threes on his way to 13 points. Meanwhile, Shamiel Stevenson followed up his best performance of the season with 10 points and five rebounds in just under 23 minutes of action.

Both teams struggled offensively on Saturday and shot 36 per cent from the field. The Honey Badgers were 37 per cent from long range and connected on 11 threes while the River Lions shot just 28 per cent from deep.

Turnovers proved to be the biggest difference in the final matchup of the regular season between the two squads. Brampton suffered 23 turnovers – including 13 Niagara steals – and was outscored 32-1 in the points from turnovers battle.

“I feel like we're a fast team. So once we get tips, deflections [and] once we get the rebound, we just get out and run,” Lall said. “It’s a big factor for our team.”

The game began as a defensive battle with neither team reaching 20 points in the first quarter. The Honey Badgers and River Lions traded blows with six lead changes and two ties through the first 10 minutes. To close the quarter, an and-one three from Green and a putback from Patrick Emilien gave Brampton the largest lead to that point at 18-13.

The Honey Badgers continued to roll to start the second quarter. Jahbril Price-Noel and Callum Baker each scored to give Brampton an 11-0 run stretching back to the first. However, the River Lions answered with a 10-0 run of their own to retake the lead at 23-22.

From there, Baker responded immediately to snatch the lead right back. The Honey Badgers controlled the remainder of the quarter, going on a 10-0 run and an 8-0 run to take a double-digit lead. Occeus scored late for Niagara and cut the deficit to 41-31 at halftime.

Brampton dominated the paint in the first half, outrebounding the River Lions 29-18 and outscoring them in the paint 20-6. Niagara struggled offensively in the opening 20 minutes, shooting 26 per cent from the field.

However, MacKenzie picked up the hoop and the harm to kick off the second half for Niagara. The River Lions inched closer several times, but the Honey Badgers held them off for most of the quarter. Niagara finally regained the lead late in the third with free throws from Whelan, but Emilien responded immediately with a three. An unsportsmanlike foul that stemmed from a McEwen screen led to game-tying free throws from Niagara’s Aiden Warnholtz. The teams went into the fourth even at 57.

Green drilled a three to start the final frame, but Occeus was active on both ends and led the River Lions to a quick six points to give them the advantage.  Brampton bounced back and a putback three from Green off his own miss gave them a six-point lead. However, Lall led Niagara on a 10-1 run before target time to give the River Lions a 73-70 advantage with a target of 82.

Niagara breezed to a win in target time. MacKenzie dished to Walker in the paint for a finish to start them off, before a long stepback two from Lall put them four points away. Occeus secured the victory with a trifecta on one possession and the game-winning free throw on the next.

The River Lions finish the regular season at 13-7 in first place in the Eastern Conference while the Honey Badgers fall to 8-11 with one game remaining.

Niagara will have almost two weeks off before the Eastern Conference Final in Langley at CEBL Championship Weekend, while Brampton will close the regular season in Scarborough on Monday.