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Written by: Zach Dadson
Despite heading into the fourth quarter with a nine-point lead the Niagara River Lions dropped a tough matchup against the Cape Breton Highlanders on Friday night in the Lions’ Den.
The River Lions fell behind early as the Highlanders started the game hot, going 6-8 from three-point range to start the game. Cape Breton led 34-23 at the end of the first quarter.
The tides turned for Niagara in the second quarter as the River Lions started the period on a 17-2 run that catapulted themselves to a lead going into halftime. In total, the River Lions outscored the Highlanders 33-17 in the quarter and went into halftime with a 56-51 lead.
“We played the same style of game, we just made shots in the second quarter, we finished.” River Lions Head Coach Keith Vassell reported after the game.
“Coach reminded us before the game that it was about us and I think in the second quarter as a whole we brought that focus back, that it was about us and it wasn’t about what other teams were doing.” Richard Amardi said after the game.
Amardi had a double-double on Friday night scoring 18 points, 10 rebounds and 2 assists.
An internal focus was important on Friday night as the matchup was the very first game between the Cape Breton Highlanders and the Niagara River Lions in franchise history.
The River Lions kept the pressure on in the third quarter outscoring the Highlanders 32-28 in the frame and went into the fourth quarter with a nine-point lead and momentum on their side.
A big part of that momentum swing was River Lions Forward Carl Hall. Hall finished the night with 17 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks with a majority of his offensive output coming in the third quarter.
“I was just trying to be more aggressive, they just told me to keep playing hard. Sometimes the ball falls your way on offensive rebounds and that’s kind of what happened tonight.” Hall said after the game.
All four of Hall’s rebounds came on the offensive glass against the Highlanders.
Unfortunately for Niagara, the momentum swung back the Highlanders way in the fourth and, despite leading by nine to start the frame, and holding on to a 104-100 lead with 2:29 to go, the River Lions weren’t able close out the game as the Cape Breton Highlanders completed the comeback and went home with a big win on the road.
The Friday night loss to the Highlanders is the second game in a row the River Lions have held a lead in the final minutes of the game but weren’t able to come away with the win.
“We’ve actually been playing great; we’ve just got to close games.” Hall reported after the game.
“Basketball’s about closing games. It ain’t how you start, its how you finish” Hall added.
Sam Muldrow, who now officially leads the National Basketball League of Canada in blocked shots, finished the night with 6 blocks, 19 points and 9 rebounds.
In total, five players scored 17 points or more for the River Lions who have done a good job getting everyone involved in their offense.
“I think that we have a lot of good pieces, players that can do a lot of things and so I really just look to go with the line-up that’s running and so when that’s happening, it works out really well.” Coach Vassell said about his team’s scoring depth.
Nick Okorie led the team in scoring Friday night with 20 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds while Kirk Williams Jr had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The River Lions now head to the East Coast for a three-game trip through the Atlantic Division. Niagara will face the Island Storm on Thursday April 13 before a Saturday April 15 matchup against the Halifax Hurricanes and a Sunday April 16 rematch against the Cape Breton Highlanders.