Hamilton Honey Badgers remain atop CEBL entering a 3-game week


Published July 11, 2022 at 10:54 am

Hamilton Honey Badgers forward Zane Waterman, left, had a game-most 19 points against Edmonton on July 9. (CEBL photo)

Thanks to Isaiah Reese draining coldblooded crowd-silencing threes and rookies responding in a road environment, the Hamilton Honey Badgers have kept the inside track in the playoff race.

The roster for a Canadian Elite Basketball League team is a summerlong moving target. The first-place Honey Badgers are no exception, since their best big Jeremiah Tilmon Jr. (Orlando Magic) and top shooting guard Christian Vital (Toronto Raptors) are playing in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, which wraps up this weekend. Regardless, Hamilton (11-3) is on a three-win streak entering the antepenultimate week of the CEBL regular season. They do have the the surging Niagara River Lions (10-4) lurking just one game back.

The Honey Badgers visit the Saskatchewan Rattlers (7-7) on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. ET, cbcsports.ca). That will wrap their three-game, three-province road trip where they have already won on the home courts of the Edmonton Stingers, the two-time league champions, and the Montreal Alliance, an expansion team which is leading the league in attendance.

Hamilton and captain Caleb Agada, a Burlington native, are also home for a pair this week at FirstOntario Centre. They host the Jalen Harris-led Scarborough Shooting Stars (8-5) on Thursday (July 14, 7 p.m.) and have a rematch against Edmonton (7-7) on Sunday (July 17, 5 p.m.) to wrap up a three-game week.

A big takeaway from Hamilton’s 87-81 away win at Edmonton last Saturday was the shooting from Reese, whose 18 points came via making 6-of-8 attempts from deep. First-year pros such as Nikola Djugo, Koby McEwen, Prince Oduro and Michael Okafor also pitched in to stitch together a comeback when the run of play and crowd factor tilted against Hamilton. The Honey Badgers capped the game with a 24-9 surge, which included outscoring Edmonton 14-4 in the Elam Ending stage.

(Under CEBL rules, teams play to a target score that is determined using the tally of the team that is ahead after the first stoppage in play with fewer than four minutes left in the fourth quarter.)

Edmonton no longer has 2021 league MVP Xavier Moon. But Canadian veterans Jordan Baker and Adika Peter-McNeilly spurred a second-half push at an excited EXPO Centre that evoked the peak form Edmonton reached on their run to last year’s CEBL title. Hamilton frayed for a long span of the second half, particularly after a lack of communication when McEwen was flattened on a screen set by Edmonton forward Marlon Johnson.

Reese and forward Zane Waterman, who had a game-most 19 points, each hit triples just before the Elam Ending phase to get Hamilton back in striking range. Edmonton entered the endgame with a four-point lead, but Djugo and McEwen finished driving layups through hard contact from defenders and Reese had another triple during an 8-0 run. After that, Hamilton never trailed.

Agada had a season-fewest four points on the day with Edmonton sending defensive help to get the ball out of the veteran guard’s hands. But he led Hamilton with eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals, including the one he converted into the game-winning layup.

Djugo, a Hamilton native, hooped 11 points in his fourth-best scoring night of the season.

The River Lions and Honey Badgers are not slated to meet until a home-and-home series on July 29 and 31. Those matchups might well decide first place in the league, and the direct bye to the CEBL championship weekend final four from Aug. 12 to 14.

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