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Written by: Zach Dadson
The Niagara River Lions improved to 2-1 under Interim Head Coach Keith Vassell as the team beat the Orangeville A’s 113-104 on Tuesday March 12 in the Lions’ Den. The win improves Niagara’s record to 9-16 on the season.
The River Lions held a 23-19 lead at the end of the first quarter and to held on to that four-point lead at halftime leading the A’s 47-43.
Both teams shot an identical 17-47 from the field in the first half as well as an identical 5-12 from three-point range. It was the River Lions’ 8 made free throws compared to the A’s 4 that gave Niagara their 4-point lead at the half.
“We missed some layups in the first half, we just didn’t knock down some shots.” Head Coach Vassell said about his team’s first half performance on Tuesday night.
Orangeville outscored Niagara 25-24 in the third quarter and the River Lions went into the fourth and final quarter with a one possession lead.
Niagara caught fire in the fourth quarter and after finding a double-digit lead midway through the frame they didn’t look back, ultimately winning by 9 points.
Despite being scoreless in the first half, Niagara’s newest River Lion Nick Okorie finished his debut performance with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
“We have a lot of fire power.” Okorie said about his new team while adding “the vibe that I got is that everybody’s confident, they’re real upbeat. They see the potential that they have and you’ve just got to put it all together.”
Okorie’s 16 second half points were a big part of the River Lions’ second consecutive win and first at home for Coach Vassell.
“He’s a very good player.” Vassell said about his team’s newest guard.
“I’m very happy with him as a pick up. I just see him being able to put some points on the board, be able to control and lead at times and he gives us another option as a guard, as a wing, that’s a strong player.” Coach Vassell continued.
Chris Commons scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter. He added 10 rebounds to finish the night with a double-double.
“It’s crunch time.” Commons said after the win.
“The team played well. It’s been a busy two weeks. New coach, he’s changed the culture, got our mindsets a little bit different.”
When asked specifically about his dominant fourth quarter, Commons was quick to reference the hunger he and all of his teammates have to return the franchise to winning ways.
“I don’t want to lose. Marcus [Lewis] don’t want to lose, the River Lions don’t want to lose so a total team effort. Everybody pulled together and guys found me. I got some opportunities off of guys’ aggressiveness.” Commons explained.
Lewis led the River Lions in scoring on Tuesday night putting up 21 points while dishing out 5 assists and collecting 2 rebounds.
Scoop Jardine was one assist short of a double-double finishing the night with 13 points, 9 assists and 2 rebounds while Tyler Murray had another solid night in the starting lineup scoring 14 points, 2 assists and 3 rebounds.
After a strong weekend under new Head Coach Keith Vassell, and a win at home against the A’s on Tuesday evening, the River Lions appear to be coming together as a team and look poised to make a run at securing a playoff spot down the stretch.
“I think everybody’s playing for each other. We’re committed to just accepting everything as is and really just believing in each other, trusting each other and it’s only been a few games but I think that the energy level, by trusting and leveraging each other’s abilities, is working for us.” Vassell said about his team.
The River Lions hit the road on Wednesday March 13 when they take on the Windsor Express. Should the team come away with a victory against the Express, it will be the franchise’s first three-game winning streak in the team’s history.