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Shooting Stars host River Lions in rematch of Eastern Conference Final

Kyree Walker Scarborough Shooting Stars Kyree Walker - Scarborough Shooting Stars

The Scarborough Shooting Stars welcome the Niagara River Lions to the Pan Am Sports Centre for a trip down memory lane on Saturday night.

All the action tips off at 7:00 p.m. ET and fans looking to take watch can stream live on CEBL+ powered by BetVictor, TSN+ and on the CEBL mobile app available for iOS and Android devices. This contest will also be televised in Canada on Game+ and NLSE in the United States.

After starting the season on a three-game road trip, the Shooting Stars will finally have their home opener on Saturday and will celebrate by raising their championship banner. And it seems fitting that after finishing the trip with a win over the Calgary Surge, the team Scarborough beat in the title game, they now return home to take on Niagara, the team they beat in the Eastern Conference Final.

In that win against the Surge, the Shooting Stars bounced back from an 0-2 start and avoided their first three-game losing streak to start a season in franchise history. It was a total team effort as eight out of nine players to check in for Scarborough hit double-digit scoring and their bench finished with 40 points (+13).

Second unit production continues to be a major strength for the Shooting Stars. Through three games, Scarborough’s bench is averaging 37 points per game, outscoring opponents by an average of 19.3 points and has put up 40-or-more points in back-to-back contests.

In the win against Calgary, it wasn’t just the fact that players off the pine were scoring a lot, it was the timeliness of their production that stood out. Hason Ward and Devoe Joseph each scored 10 of their 14 and 13 points, respectively, in the second quarter as they gave the Shooting Stars their first significant lead. Meanwhile, Jaden Campbell scored eight of his 13 points off the bench in the fourth quarter to help seal Scarborough’s first victory of the season.

On the other side, Niagara also bounced back following a shaky start of their own. The River Lions opened their year by losing the first game of a home-and-home set against Brampton before responded with a commanding 43-point win over the Honey Badgers on Thursday.

And it may be an oversimplification, but Niagara’s biggest adjustments were hitting more shots and being sharper defensively. The River Lions scored 36 more points in their win compared to last week’s seven-point loss and that’s not a surprise considering they shot nearly 25 and 30 per cent better from the field and distance.

Defensively, the River Lions didn’t allow Zane Waterman and L.J. Thorpe to combine for 51 points and outscore their entire starting lineup for a second consecutive game. Granted Thorpe was out for the rematch, but Niagara still looked impressive stifling Waterman to just seven points on 0-for-4 shooting.

Key matchup 

This game will be especially unique for one player in particular, Elijah Lufile. He’ll be taking on his old squad for the first time since winning a title last season and then subsequently joining the team he helped eliminate.

The Milton, Ont. native’s offensive numbers may not pop out as he’s averaged just two points in his 15.5 minutes per game, but his impact has still been felt. His eight rebounds on average are 10th in the CEBL as he’s spearheaded the league’s most productive team on the glass.

Matched up against Lufile on Saturday will be who Scarborough signed to replace him, Hason Ward. The American import has been impressive in his own right through his first three games in the CEBL, immediately establishing himself as an elite rim protector.

Ward is averaging a league-best 3.3 blocks a game to go along with his 10.7 points per game as he’s slotted in as the Shooting Stars de facto big man.

So, in a game chalked full of guard depth and wing talent, make sure to keep an eye on the battle that’ll be taking place inside the paint.

2023 season series

Going back to last year, Niagara won both regular season contests before Scarborough ultimately got the last laugh and bounced them from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Final.