The Scarborough Shooting Stars visit the Niagara River Lions on Thursday night for CEBL action from the Meridian Centre at 7:00 pm ET.
Looking back to last year, these teams faced-off twice in the regular season and split the series 1-1. The tiebreaker came in the playoffs where the two teams met in the Championship weekend semi-finals, one win away from competing for the title. It was the Shooting Stars who came out on top in that game, taking the 93-81 victory, ending the River Lions’ season in the process.
Fast-forward to this season and both Scarborough and Niagara head into this contest looking for just their second win so far. Despite the identical records, the one-win teams have been trending in opposite directions. Scarborough won their first game of the season but have now lost three straight, while Niagara started their campaign on a three-game skid before picking up their first win.
The Shooting Stars head into this game on the heels of a 96-84 loss to the Saskatchewan Rattlers where they never held a lead outside of the first three minutes of the game. They were outshot from the field, distance, and the free-throw line. Most notably, their three-point shooting left something to be desired as Scarborough hit only seven triples in the game on 25 per cent.
Outside of their struggles beyond the arch, it was the Shooting Stars bench production that stood out as a weakness on the night. The second unit was a -9 in the game, scoring nine points on a combined 2-14 from the field in the process. A rather uncharacteristic performance for a bench that averaged 28 points per game heading into that matchup.
The starters performed admirably for Scarborough, doing what they could to make up for that lack of additional scoring. Four of their five starters scored in double figures, with Cat Barber leading the way via his 27 points. That made it four straight games scoring 23 or more points, bumping the guard’s average to 26 points per game, ranking second in the league.
His backcourt partner Jalen Harris struggled on the night, scoring just nine points, but there was a silver lining with tertiary guard Kassius Robertson having his best performance of the season. After going scoreless in their game against the Winnipeg Sea Bears (Robertson’s 2023 debut), he bounced back by notching 17 points against the Rattlers while knocking down four triples.
If the trio of Harris, Barber, and Robertson can manage to play well on the same night, it’ll give the Shooting Stars a fighting shot in this contest. Two games ago when Robertson made his debut, Harris described their backcourt’s potential as “limitless,” once they got some chemistry. All eyes will be on said backcourt in this one, to see if they’ve figured things out.
On the other side, Niagara enters this contest beating that same Saskatchewan team that Scarborough just lost to. It was their best performance of the season by far, as the team breezed by the Rattlers in a 116-74 win. Coming out of a 42-point win, there’s not many negatives to point out for the River Lions to improve upon. Looking at the box score, they had the edge in literally every single category. They were the better team scoring the ball, defending the ball, and on the glass.
A contributing factor in that success was the return of 2022 league MVP Khalil Ahmad. In his first game this season, the guard nearly logged a triple double by tallying 17 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists. He was helped by Jahvon Henry-Blair and Antonio Davis Jr. as they scored 21 and 20 points respectively.
It’ll be hard for Niagara to replicate a performance that dominant, as 42-point wins aren’t a common occurrence no matter how good the team is. However, the team has shown signs that a performance like that wasn’t a total anomaly. They’ve increased their scoring output every single game, seeing an uptick in makes and field goal percentage game-over-game through the early season. If the River Lions can continue that trend in this matchup, it’ll give the team a good shot at winning their second game in a row.