Reigning CEBL MVP Khalil Ahmad is showing what it means to be valuable. After an 0-3 start to the season without Ahmad, the Niagara River Lions have won two in a row with their star back in the lineup. 

The River Lions will look to stay hot in a Saturday night showdown with the Vancouver Bandits set for 7 p.m.  at the Meridian Centre. 

The game will be available for streaming on TSN+, CEBL+ powered by BetVictor and on the CEBL Mobile app available on iOS and Android devices.

Entering the contest, Vancouver is trending in the opposite direction. The Bandits are 1-4 to kick off the season and have lost back-to-back games, including a 98-74 defeat against the Brampton Honey Badgers last night.  Vancouver lost the second half by 22 points, shooting 38 per cent from the field and 25 per cent from three through four quarters. 

Three-point shooting has been a struggle for the Bandits to start the season. The squad ranks eighth in the CEBL in three-point percentage at 28 per cent and sits in the bottom half of the league in most offensive categories. 

Vancouver will likely hope to avoid a shootout with Niagara, who have one of the most effective offences in the league through five games. The River Lions are first in both field goal percentage and two-point percentage and third in both points per game and three-point percentage. 

However, the Bandits hold the advantage on the glass. Vancouver leads the CEBL in rebounds per game with 51.2, while Niagara is seventh. 

The frontcourt of Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Nick Ward has provided the Bandits with a much-needed upper hand on the boards early in the season. Bezhanishvili sits behind only Calgary’s Simi Shittu in rebounds per game with 11.4 while also contributing top-ten scoring at 17.6 points per game.  The Georgian big man will hope to bounce back from a poor performance against the Honey Badgers on Friday night where he scored just 5 points on 2-11 shooting. 

The Bandits’ other star big man was more effective in last night’s loss. Ward scored 21 points off the bench on 9-11 from the field, one of two Vancouver players to reach double figures. The 6’9 bruiser is top ten in the league in both field goal percentage and rebounds per game, while averaging 16.2 points per game. 

New acquisition MJ Walker was the only other Bandit to reach double figures with 26 points on 8-13 shooting in his debut while fellow fresh face Jahenns Manigat provided 8 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals for Vancouver. 

On the other side, Ahmad will continue to lead the River Lions’ attack after a solid start to his season. The reigning MVP and Clutch Player of the Year netted 17 points in each of his first two games, adding 7 assists against Scarborough and flirting with a triple double against Saskatchewan. 

Both of Niagara’s wins with Ahmad in the lineup have come by double figures. However, the River Lions were still competitive without Ahmad to start the season – two of their three losses came by five points or less. The supporting cast has helped provide Niagara with a balanced offence to begin the 2023 campaign.

Canadian sharpshooter Jahvon Blair is averaging 14.6 points per game on 44 per cent shooting from three and scored a team-high 21 points in the win over Scarborough. Edward Ekiyor, Antonio Davis Jr, Lloyd Pandi and Patrick Whelan are all averaging over 10 points per game for the River Lions as well.  Meanwhile, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year EJ Onu is protecting the rim once again with a league-best 2.2 blocks per game. 

Niagara sits fourth in the Eastern Conference at 2-3 entering the contest while Vancouver are in the basement of the Western Conference at 1-4. 

The Bandits will continue their road trip on Wednesday at 7 p.m. MT against the Calgary Surge while the River Lions host the Montreal Alliance on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.