Hamilton Honey Badgers, St. Catharines-based River Lions set their CEBL playoff seeds


Published August 2, 2022 at 11:59 am

Hamilton's Jeremiah Tilmon Jr. dunks in St. Catharines on July 29. (CEBL photo)

Starting the playoffs with a road game is the reward that the Hamilton Honey Badgers and floor leader Caleb Agada get for finishing in first place.

Meantime, as the regular-season runner-up in the Canadian Elite Basketball League, the Niagara River Lions will have a longer route to the final.

The CEBL, as a relatively young fourth-year league which has managed to carry on and crown a champion each summer during the COVID-19 pandemic, opted to guarantee a local team for its mid-August championship weekend. A few weeks ago, the host Ottawa Blackjacks were guaranteed the No. 4 seed in the playoff bracket. So Hamilton (14-6) already knows it will face Ottawa (8-12) in one of the semifinals on Aug. 12.

The River Lions (13-7) and CEBL scoring champion Khalil Ahmad will play a quarterfinal game on Saturday (Aug. 6, against 7:30 p.m.) against the lowest remaining seed left after the two preliminary games on Thursday. The game site has not been announced. Meridian Centre in St. Catharines is unavailable due to the Canada Summer Games.

The Honey Badgers only won two of their final five games to close out the regular season, but that was enough to hold on to No. 1 seed. They also got some affirmation about another potential offensive leader when Raptors 905 alumnus Aaron Best put up a game-most 22 points during the 76-73 win at Niagara last Friday which clinched first place.

A peak-form Best would be a good complement to an offence built around rookie guard Christian Vital (team-high 17.5 points per game), power forward Jeremiah Tilmon Jr. (league-best 63.9 shooting percentage) and Agada, the veteran two-way guard from Burlington who plays for Nigeria’s national team. Vital and Agada also finished 1-2 in the league in steals.

Their playoff foe, Ottawa, finished eighth out of 10 teams. However, the Blackjacks finished with a three-win streak that included a home win against Hamilton and an away win against the two-time defending league champion Edmonton Stingers.

Ottawa boasts league assists runner-up Walt Lemon Jr. and two major scoring threats on the wings, forward Deng Adel and guard Johnny Berhanemeskel. Adel is a former Louisville Cardinals standout who has also played with Raptors 905.  The latter plays for Chorale Roanne Basket of France’s top pro league, and was a University of Ottawa teammate of Agada’s.

The River Lions locked down the No. 2 seed with an 83-79 win at Hamilton on Sunday. The game meant nothing in the standings to Hamilton after its win against Niagara two days earlier, but tempers ran high at times. At one stage, the teams had a shoving match in front of Niagara’s bench area.

Ahmad had 22 points to clinch the scoring title, and set a River Lions record for highest scoring average in a CEBL season.

As the No. 2 seed, the River Lions can potentially face either the Guelph Nighthawks, Edmonton or the Saskatchewan Rattlers this weekend. The only team they cannot face is the fourth-place Fraser Valley Bandits.

The expansion Scarborough Shooting Stars host the other quarterfinal this weekend.

All CEBL games are streamed on CBC Gem and cbcsports.ca.

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