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The River Lions showed no hesitation coming out of the gate and their physicality got them to the free throw line very early in the contest. The A’s were hot on their heels however and a 9-0 run gave Orangeville their first lead of the night with every player getting involved offensively. Not only did they match Niagara’s aggressive play on the offensive end by going to the basket on every opportunity, but they also maximized their offensive chances by forcing several turnovers. With every A’s basket the lead continued to grow. Niagara wasn’t shooting particularly well from the floor but eventually the A’s inability to consistently defend without fouling or limit second chance points allowed the River Lions to hang around close enough before they made a push for the lead in the last few minutes.
It was a tough end to the quarter for Orangeville that left them trailing by 27-33 and they struggled with getting their play back on track after falling behind. Outside of Anthony Harris (13 points, 5 rebounds) and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (9 points, 4 assists), the team didn’t have a reliable offensive threat to put points on the board as Niagara began to pull away. The River Lions relied on Samuel Muldrow (13 points, 9 rebounds) on both sides of the floor and he was a key figure in pulling down most of their 32 first half rebounds along with sending back shots. As the quarter wore on so did the number of free throw attempts for both sides as virtually every possession ended with a whistle. With the mounting foul calls on key players, it was very likely that several key figures would end up spending an extended period of time off the floor. The A’s continued to trail for the entire quarter and although they occasionally managed to get a few defensive stops without sending a River Lion to the line, those plays came very few and far in between. Because of those issues they could never develop fluidity to their offense and take the lead but they were relieved to only be trailing by7, (50-57) after such a cold stretch.
Following the halftime break Orangeville were back and ready to make another push. Behind a quick 6-0 run that got them within a single point, hope was still alive, unfortunately their momentum came grinding to a halt once Anthony Harris had to promptly return to the bench due to his mounting foul count. With the team’s leading scorer headed off the floor, the A’s scrambled for a few possessions to generate any scoring until Hollis-Jefferson was back at the forefront of the offense. He led the charge offensively and his ability to score in a variety of ways forced Niagara to pay constant attention to him wherever he was on the court. Despite having a new scoring leader on one end of the floor, their defense was still a glaring concern considering that they weren’t able to get much closer than 5 points. While Muldrow was noticeably a tough cover on the offensive end, it was his defense and countless blocked shots that anchored their defense and set the tone for the entire matchup. In addition, his stellar play, the added contributions of Richard Amardi (16 points, 5-13 FG) simply added to the headaches the River Lions caused for Orangeville.
The A’s went into the 4th quarter trailing by 71-82 and had 12 minutes to get back in front. They battled back from double-digit deficits numerous times but they had to get ahead of their opponents once and for all. 3-pointers began flying for both sides and it was an all-out shootout. Jameson Tipping (16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) was particularly hot from the corner and before long the A’s were back within 4 points with another chance at completing their comeback. Niagara had a response for every A’s run and, just as they had done all game, they managed to keep Orangeville at bay for another stretch. After a few key players fouled out, it was Hollis-Jefferson (26 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists) who emerged as the hero and a late 3-pointer gave the A’s a 104-103 lead that they ran out until the final buzzer. Tonight's win clinches the fourth place playoff spot for the A's who will face off with London in the First round next week.
By The Numbers:
Bench Help: The A’s got a total of 42 points off the bench vs. 28 for Niagara
Interior Battle: Orangeville scored 46 points in the paint
Defend the Arc: Niagara was held to only 22% (8-35) shooting from 3