The Calgary Surge (12-8) kept their chances at the number one seed in the western conference alive with a 92-89 victory over the Saskatchewan Rattlers (8-12) at the SaskTel Centre.
The win also eliminated the Rattlers from playoff contention, and gave the idle Edmonton Stingers the final play-in spot in the CEBL playoffs next week.
“I think our team did a great job of staying the course, taking the best shots, and winning the war of attrition,” Calgary head coach Nelson Terroba said after the game. “We had a big, tough win against a worthy opponent.”
Stefan Smith, who finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists, was the man who put the dagger in Saskatchewan’s 2023 regular season.
Following a corner three from Michael Nuga to deadlock the game at 89, Smith curled off a screen on the other side of the court and nailed a three at the top of the arch with CEBL MVP candidate Justin Wright-Foreman doing all he could to contest the shot.
“I was confident going into it,” Smith said. “It was three points to get to the target score, and especially with a scorer like Wright-Foreman, you don’t wanna give him another opportunity with the ball. So I decided to go for the three and win it.”
Wright-Foreman racked up 27 points, six boards and six assists in his final game of the summer. The Queen’s, New York native finished the campaign just shy of averaging 30 points per contest.
“This has been probably one of the better experiences I’ve had in my life,” Wright-Foreman said of his 2023 season with the Rattlers.
“This has probably been the closest team I’ve ever been on, this hurts a lot, but I’m just glad I got to meet everybody in the building.”
Calgary’s Simi Shittu nabbed a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards—six of which came on the offensive glass—while Terry Henderson Jr. collected 10 points off the bench for the third consecutive game. Sean Miller-Moore led the team with 16 points.
“A lot of credit goes towards Saskatchewan, coach Massey, they played a great game,” Terroba said. “It took our best effort to have a chance to win tonight.”
Although Calgary won the rebound battle, and converted four more threes than their season average of seven per game, the Surge used the fast break to their advantage tonight. Calgary scored 28 of their 92 points in transition, and turned 13 Saskatchewan turnovers into 16 points.
Calgary also only turned the ball over five times tonight.
Neither team refused to give an inch in a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere.
Wright-Foreman showed some flair with a behind the back pass to a cutting Anthony Tsegakele in the first quarter to give the Rattlers an early lead. Calgary responded with a 7-0 run, but back-to-back threes by Jermel Kennedy and Nuga put the Rattlers back in front heading towards the end of the frame.
With the game clock winding down in the first, Nuga grabbed an offensive rebound, rushed out to the three point line, and hit a fadeaway three to give the Rattlers a 22-17 advantage after one. Nuga finished with 18 points and four threes on the night.
Wright-Foreman exploded for 16 points of his 27 points in the second quarter, however, Calgary found their stroke found long range and took a two-point lead heading into halftime. After nailing two threes in the first, the Surge splashed home four in the second quarter to bring their first half total to six.
Calgary entered tonight converting the fewest threes per game (7.2) in the CEBL.
Nuga scored a pair of threes to start the third quarter, as Saskatchewan converted five of their first six shots in the frame.
But former Rattler Jordy Tshimanga came off the bench and chipped in with seven points in the quarter to keep Calgary within striking distance. The Surge were also able to hold Wright-Foreman to zero points in the third, and only six after halftime in the win.
Wright-Foreman scored his first field goal of the second half to start target score time. He later dropped home a three a few possessions later to bring Saskatchewan to within a point of Calgary. Smith, though, ended the game on an individual 5-0 run—capped off with the game-winner—to end the Rattlers playoff hopes.
“Our guys fought to give ourselves a chance and that’s all you can ask for,” Rattlers interim head coach Tanner Massey said of his team’s late run to the playoffs that included winning four of their last six games entering tonight.
“Where we were in the standings awhile back to now, just having this opportunity is a true testament to our guys.”
With the win, Calgary has a shot of finishing first place in the western conference and avoiding the play-in round.
If the Winnipeg Sea Bears lose at home tomorrow to the Stingers, Calgary earns the top seed. A Winnipeg win will force Calgary to host a play-in game against the Stingers next week
“The playoffs [are] their own game, their own puzzle, these games are great tests,” Terroba said. “This was a great team-win for us.”