The Hamilton Honey Badgers are No. 1 for now, but will be tested without one of their big three.
The Honey Badgers and their QEW rivals, the Niagara River Lions, are 1-2 in a compact race for Canadian Elite Basketball League playoff position entering a four-week stretch run. Hamilton, and their leading scorers Caleb Agada and Christian Vital, enters that stage — which includes a nationally televised road test against the two-time champion Edmonton Stingers this week — without their most proven post scorer and rim protector.
Forward Jeremiah Tilmon, who is averaging 13.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and a team-best 1.3 blocked shots, has joined the Orlando Magic squad in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Tilmon got the call last Saturday.
Hamilton (9-3) won in their first outing sans Tilmon with an 86-75 away win against the Ottawa Blackjacks last Saturday (July 2). Agada, the veteran guard from Burlington who is avergaging 14.4 points while leading the Honey Badgers in rebounding, assists and steals (6.6, 5.7 and 2.3 respectively), had a characteristic performance with 19 points. Prince Oduro stepped into Tilmon’s sneakers to put up a 14-points, 10-rebounds double-double. That helped cover for an off-day from Vital, who was held to eight points, lowering his team-best average to 17.6.
Ottawa, though, is outside of the playoff pack with a 3-8 record. This week, the Honey Badgers are on the road twice. Thursday, they face the ninth-placed Montréal Alliance (3-9), then head west for the showdown against Edmonton (7-5) on Saturday (4 p.m., CBC, cbcsports.ca, CBC Gem).
Hamilton and Niagara will not face each other until a home-and-home series during the final regular-season weekend in July.
Niagara (8-4) and league scoring leader Khalil Ahmad have to reset for a homestand in St. Catharines after a come-from-behind win in a second-place showdown three time zones from home on Sunday.
Sunday, the River Lions surmounted a 19-point deficit on their way to an 102-99 win against the Fraser Valley Bandits (8-4). The rally gave assistant coach and Hamilton native Danielle Boiago her first head coaching win, as she filled in while head coach Victor Raso on a paternity leave.
Ahmad (23 points), Antonio Davis Jr. (22 points, 12-rebounds) and Daniel Walden-Mullins (12 and 10 for a double-double) helped spur the Niagara comeback. The River Lions closed the gap on Fraser Valley in the third quarter and carried a six-point lead into the Elam Ending stage. Ahmad hit the clinching free throw.
(Under CEBL rules, after the first stoppage of play with fewer than four minutes left in the game, the game clock is turned off and the teams play to reach a target score. The target score is nine points above the total of the team which is in the lead.)
The River Lions were on the other end of a last-shot-wins game during a 92-90 defeat against the Saskatchewan Rattlers last Friday in their first game of the road trip.
This week, Niagara hosts Edmonton in a rematch of the 2021 CEBL final on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Meridan Centre. Saturday, the River Lions host the Guelph Nighthawks (6-6) in a 7 p.m. tip-off. Five of the River Lions’ remaining eight games are on their home court.
Raso, a Hamilton native, and his spouse Krizia welcomed a baby boy into the world last week.
Boiago is the lead assistant coach with the McMaster Marauders women’s team.