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Bandits drop tough road battle against Rattlers

Nick Ward Vancouver Bandits Nick Ward - Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL)

LANGLEY, B.C., May 30, 2024 – The Vancouver Bandits (2-1) suffered the club’s first loss of the season 98-86 in a loss against the now undefeated Saskatchewan Rattlers (3-0) on Thursday night.

It’s the first time in franchise history the Rattlers have opened a campaign with three consecutive wins and they did it by outshooting Vancouver from two-point range and beyond the three-point arc.

Jalen Harris led the way with 27 points, going an even 4-for-8 from the field and deep, while racking up six rebounds, nine assists and two steals. The game-high scoring output also put the guard in an elite group as a 500-point scorer in the CEBL (regular season and playoffs).

He was aided by the trio of Elijah Harkless, Maurice Calloo and Grant Basile who each scored 19 points.
On the other side, Vancouver finished with only three double-digit scorers in what ended up as their first loss of the season. They were spearheaded by Zach Copeland’s 26 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter, and a pair of double-doubles by Nick Ward (23 points, 15 rebounds) and Koby McEwen (18 points, 10 rebounds).

The first quarter of this game personified the old adage: “Basketball is a game of runs.”

Saskatchewan threw the first punch, opening the game on a 12-3 run that forced Vancouver to call a timeout less than three minutes in. The burst was thanks to a 5-for-5 start from the field for Saskatchewan, as well as Vancouver adapting to the loss of Tazé Moore, who was a late-game scratch due to an illness.

The team’s second-leading scorer (17.5 points per game) and minutes per game leader (35.8) was removed from Vancouver’s lineup during warmups due to illness and it was clear the team was affected by it early on.

“It was a little bit unexpected,” said Bandits head coach Kyle Julius postgame on Moore being taken out of the lineup last minute. “But it’s not an excuse or issue, the guys that played were ready to go and that’s all that mattered.”

Fortunately for Vancouver they responded with an 11-2 run that cut the deficit down to 16-14 midway through the frame. Unfortunately for Vancouver, Harris decided he was going to take over and hit three consecutive threes in the final three minutes of the first quarter, spearheading a 13-2 run that put the Rattlers up 13 points.

“They were trying to pressure me (at the basket),” said Harris reflecting on his first quarter outburst. “They clogged the paint and weren’t letting me get downhill, so I reacted to what was open.”

Come the second quarter, Saskatchewan’s lead continued to balloon as everything clicked offensively. The Rattlers, despite ranking last in the league in two-point percentage, made 62 per cent of their looks inside the arc while also hitting nine threes on a 50 per cent clip.

Harris led the way, scoring a game-high 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting through the first half while Calloo and Basile chipped in with 11 points apiece. The trio combined to outscore Vancouver’s entire starting lineup through the first half as Saskatchewan carved out a 19-point lead.

The Bandits did themselves no favours either as they had arguably their worst offensive half of the season, shooting 30 per cent from the field and 25 per cent from deep.

“I wouldn’t say their defence made anything difficult, we just missed shots,” Ward said post game on his team’s offensive struggles. “We missed easy shots and sometimes we have days like that.”

Very little improved for Vancouver coming out of the break as Saskatchewan’s Elijah Harkless decided it was his turn to get going. The import guard scored eight points in the frame, capping things off with a thundering buzzer-beating dunk that not only rocked the Rattlers bench but also helped maintain their 19-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

“I’m not going to lie, he caught me off guard,” Harris said with a smile on his reaction to Harkless’ highlight jam. “He shot the last one like a floater and missed it long, so I was crashing the glass thinking he’d shoot the same thing, but he went and dunked it and it left me speechless.”

Despite facing a near-20-point deficit, the Bandits did have hope considering they entered Thursday off a win against the Scarborough Shooting Stars in which they trailed by 13 points late in the third. That comeback was sparked by an increased defensive presence in the paint, eliminating high quality looks and the strong play of James Karnik who scored 14 points in the quarter last Sunday.

And although the B.C. native’s heroics weren’t present in this one, as Karnik fouled out in the fourth quarter with just two points, the Bandits were able to cut the deficit down to 13 points heading into Target Score time, and down all the way to nine points before the game was over.

This time their comeback effort was courtesy of Copeland who scored 10 points in Target Score, hitting a three that made it a single-digit ball game for the first time since the 2:52 mark of the first quarter.

“It got better at times,” said Julius on Vancouver’s late push. “I don’t think we were executing defensively the way we wanted to the whole game, so we’ll have to go back and make some corrections.”

The Bandits’ rally didn’t get any further however as they weren’t able to chain together any more stops before Harkless drilled a deep triple to end the ball game.

After tonight’s tilt, Vancouver returns to Langley Events Centre (LEC) for a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final against the Calgary Surge on Saturday, June 1.