Niagara dropped 40 points in the final frame to walk out of Abbotsford Centre with a 104-94 win.
The Bandits were out-rebounded 42-31 by the River Lions, and Fraser Valley gave up 15 offensive rebounds to Niagara. Second-chance points saw Niagara outscore the Bandits 17-12.
Bandits head coach Peter Guarasci said some of the team’s mistakes built up as the game went on and cost the club the game.
“Niagara is a very good team and they’re well coached and, if you make mistakes against them, then they make you pay,” he said. “They shoot a lot of threes so there are a lot of long rebounds and we struggled trying to corral some of them in. We also had some careless outlet passes that I know our guys would want back.”
The River Lions’ dagger came with 35 seconds left when guard Nem Mitrovic hit a wide-open three to put Niagara up 98-84. The Bandits never recovered from that crucial shot.
— Niagara River Lions (@RiverLions) July 12, 2019
“We left a shooter in the corner and over-rotated – that was a tough one,” Guarasci said. “We did a really good job on Mitrovic the whole game but he got two or three open looks late and it cost us.”
Abbotsford’s Marek Klassen had a strong game for the Bandits, collecting a team-high 23 points and four assists. Forward Levon Kendall contributed with 13 points and seven boards, while Abbotsford’s Joel Friesen provided a spark off the bench with nine points and was a +9 on the floor.
Despite the loss, Guarasci has liked his team’s play in recent weeks. The Bandits’ win streak saw them hold teams to under 90 points each game, and he said that type of defensive intensity is needed for the club to pick up more wins.
“Defensively, we’ve been pretty good,” he said of the club’s past month. “We’re making it difficult for the opposition and sharing the ball more.”
He said that additions to the roster – like Jelan Kendrick and big man Chris McLaughlin – have fit in well.
“Kendrick finds a way to impact the game without demanding too much,” he said. “And McLaughlin is a force out there. Both of those guys were strong for us (Thursday).”
The Bandits’ record drops to 3-10 with the loss, and they remain tied for fifth in the Canadian Elite Basketball League. Niagara (11-3) made history Thursday night as they became the first-ever team to qualify for the playoffs.
Fraser Valley returns to action on July 18, when the Hamilton Honey Badgers come to town. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Abbotsford Centre.