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Sea Bears visit River Lions for second game of back-to-back

Teddy Allen Winnipeg Sea Bears Teddy Allen - Kyle Thomas/Winnipeg Sea Bears

The Winnipeg Sea Bears (3-1) continue a four-game road trip as they visit the Niagara River Lions (1-2) at the Meridian Centre on Thursday night.

Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET available on Game+ with streaming options on CEBL+ powered by BetVictor, TSN+ and on the CEBL mobile app available for iOS and Android devices. 

It’ll be the first of two matchups for the cross-conference opponents and Winnipeg’s second game is an many days. The Sea Bears are the first team this year to go through a back-to-back as they enter the night following a nail-biter against the Brampton Honey Badgers on Wednesday.

Winnipeg rolled into the CAA Centre yesterday and withstood just about every punch thrown by Brampton as they came out with a 92-90 victory for a third consecutive win.

Had it not been for another heroic performance from Teddy Allen, however, things might’ve ended differently. The reigning league MVP finished the game with 30 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning floater in Target Score Time. 

Allen is yet to score less than 27 points in a contest this year and through four games he leads the league in scoring, with his 34.5 points per game almost a full 10 points more than the second-leading scorer.

The import guard helped the Sea Bears overcome a game they nearly gave away thanks to a season-high 17 turnovers which gifted Honey Badgers nine extra points. An uncharacteristic showing from a team that entered the day averaging the fewest turnovers in the league.

On the other side, Niagara enters the night looking to bounce back from a 95-87 loss against the Scarborough Shooting Stars in what was billed as a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final.

The River Lions had their quietest offence showing of the year as they were held to a season-low in scoring and coughed up the ball a season-high 16 times. Niagara wasn’t able to keep up with Scarborough’s fire power for the entirely of the contest and it ended up costing them.

After a strong start, making seven threes on better than 50 per cent shooting, the River Lions’ well completely dried up. They made just four triples the rest of the way on a sub-30 per cent clip. By the end of the game, Scarborough canned three more triples, making all the difference in Niagara’s eight-point loss.

There were silver linings for the River Lions to build on however, as they got two standout performances that they’ll hope happen again. Jahvon Blair came off the bench and led the game in scoring, potting 22 points in 24 minutes of action. It was a season-high performance for the third-year CEBL guard and until 2022 league MVP Khalil Ahmad returns from his overseas season, it’s the type of output Niagara will need more of. 

Meanwhile, Elijah Lufile also had his best game of the year as he put up 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds against his former team. The 2023 champion will be equally necessary against Winnipeg as he’ll have to match up against two of the league’s premier forwards in Byron Mullens and Chad Posthumus.

Keys to victory

Three-point shooting: It sounds simple to say the team that hits more shots from beyond the arc is likely to win, but in this game, it could be a big swing factor. Neither team shoots with much efficiency from distance, in fact Winnipeg (31.1) and Niagara (31.5) rank second and third last when it comes to three-point conversion rate. 

Granted, the Sea Bears may shoot worse in terms of percentage, but they average about three more makes a contest. And with both squads likely neutralizing each other’s two-point production, those extra couple of makes could be game-changing.

Rebounding: Despite the Sea Bears entering the matchup with more size in their lineup, the River Lions are statistically the better team on the glass. Niagara leads the CEBL, averaging 43.7 rebounds a game while ranking top two on both the offensive and defensive side. In their loss to the Shooting Stars, rebounding was one of the few advantages as they grabbed 17 offensive rebounds (+3) and earned 18 second-chance points as a result. 

And for what it’s worth, giving up extra possessions appears to be a trend for Winnipeg in tight ball games. Their lone loss and Wednesday’s two-point win are the only game’s where opponents have grabbed more offensive rebounds then them. Against Brampton they gave up 19 offensive rebounds (-4) for 15 second-chance points. 

2023 Season Series

If last year’s lone matchup is any indication, fans will be in for a treat. Winnipeg took their first-ever contest against Niagara by overcoming a 17-point deficit midway through the third quarter in what ended up as a three-point win.

Unsurprisingly, Allen led the way with a game-high 28 points to go with six rebounds, six assists and three steals as his Sea Bears came out with a 93-90 victory