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River Lions sweep home-and-home set against BlackJacks

River Lions River Lions - CEBL
Khalil Ahmad’s 29-point performance led the Niagara River Lions (11-7) to their second consecutive win over the Ottawa BlackJacks (12-7) in a 97-82 victory on Sunday afternoon.
The reigning league MVP finished the game with 29 points, six assists, and two steals, doing so on 69 per cent shooting from the field and 6-10 from distance. After finishing with just 10 points in their last game against Ottawa on Thursday, it felt clear to BlackJacks head coach James Derouin that Ahmad came into this one with a point to prove.
“He’s the league’s MVP and showed why tonight,” said Derouin post-game. “Good players like Khalil remember the last game…and he wanted to prove he’s one of the best, if not the best, player in the league…it was his night tonight.”
Ahmad’s backcourt mate Jahvon Henry-Blair was the team’s next best scorer as he put up 18 points, knocking down four triples along the way. Meanwhile Eddie Ekiyor added in a double-double performance with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Alonzo Walker had his best game of the year with a season-high 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Ottawa was led by Kadre Gray and his 21 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, on better than 60 per cent shooting from the field and distance. Jackson Rowe was the team’s next best contributor as he added 19 points and seven rebounds. Meanwhile MVP hopeful Deng Adel had one of his quietest outings all season, as he put up nine points on 3-11 shooting from the field, failing to reach the double-digit points mark for just the third time this year.
Niagara’s backcourt duo of Henry-Blair and Ahmad landed the first punch in this battle of Eastern Conference heavyweights, as the pairing scored the River Lions first 19 points in the game.
Henry-Blair put up eight points, while Ahmad had 11 on a perfect 4-4 shooting from the field. The two guards combined to score more points than Ottawa’s entire starting lineup throughout the first quarter, and their strong play helped Niagara go up by as many as 14 points throughout the frame.
However, with danger of the game slipping away early, BlackJacks head coach James Derouin wisely called a timeout to steady his team, and it seemed to work. Ottawa came out of the huddle and finished the quarter by going on a 7-0 as they cut the deficit down to 27-20 headed into the second.
Ahmad was on the bench getting a well-earned rest for much of that quarter-ending BlackJacks run, and as soon as he checked back in, the guard scored nine points, sparking a 13-4 run that gave Niagara their double-digit lead back. He averaged 33 per cent from beyond the arch entering the contest but seemed to forget that as he went 5-6 on triples throughout the first half, finishing the quarter with a game-high 20 points.
The BlackJacks came into the game as the league’s strongest three-point shooting team (38.9 per cent), but the River Lions were the squad making it look easy from downtown through two quarters of play. Niagara knocked down eight triples as a team, doing so on a stellar 57 per cent clip. More impressive than their ability to make shots, it was their effort to deter shots by Ottawa.
“They know we’re looking for the threes,” said Derouin on his team making only six threes today. “They dominated us defensively…we not only made less threes than usual, but we also couldn’t even take as many as we usually do.”
Ottawa however had yet another response to the herculean effort of Ahmad as they ended the quarter by going on a 14-5 run to make it a seven-point game, down 50-43 at halftime.
After a quiet first-half with eight first-half points, Rowe took over for the BlackJacks in the third as he tried to lead his team back into the game. He scored eight of the team’s first 10 points in the quarter, but Ottawa’s struggle containing Niagara’s lead-guard continued to cost them. 
Ahmad scored seven more points in the third as he helped Niagara to yet another big run, this time 9-2, as the River Lions went into the fourth with a 74-57 lead, the biggest margin of the game until then.
Niagara didn’t slow down through the final frame, outscoring Ottawa by five points in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, extending their lead to 87-65 headed into Target Score Time.
The BlackJacks, facing a 22-point deficit, showed why they owned the league’s top record coming into the game, as they went on a 9-2 run to try and get back into the game. Unfortunately for Ottawa fans, the effort came a bit too late as the gap was too large to overcome.
Antonio Davis Jr. scored five of his eight points on the night, in Target Time, including the game-winning jumper from the right wing to end the contest, 97-82 the final.
With the victory the River Lions finish the regular season 3-1 versus the BlackJacks and have also broken a tie with the Scarborough Shooting Stars for sole possession of second place in the East. Niagara now has two games remaining in their 2023 campaign before the post-season and will return to action on July 28 when they’ll be hosting the Montréal Alliance. 
“It’s the biggest week of the season,” said River Lions head coach Victor Raso on his team’s mentality going into their next game. “This next Monday through Thursday has to be our best Monday through Thursday all year.”
Ottawa has now lost back-to-back games for the first time since June 22, and have one game remaining in their regular season schedule. They’ll hope to head into the CEBL playoffs with a win and some momentum as they’ll be hosting the Vancouver Bandits on July 27 from TD Place.
“There’s a lot at stake still,” said BlackJacks head coach James Derouin. 
“After winning eight in a row, we’ve lost two straight [games], so we want to finish with a win against Vancouver at home…we definitely want to get a win heading into that potential first playoff game.”