It is fair to say the Fraser Valley Bandits accepted the challenge from their head coach and responded appropriately.
Just days earlier in Saskatoon, the Saskatchewan Rattlers dominated on the boards, hauling in 52 rebounds – 18 on the offensive end – compared to 32 for the Bandits, on their way to an 86-77 victory.
The Bandits would host those same Rattlers three days later, on Saturday afternoon, in their inaugural Canadian Elite Basketball League game at Langley Events Centre (LEC) with Fraser Valley sending the fans home happy with the 90-78 victory.
Fraser Valley won the rebounding battle on Saturday 43-35, including holding the Rattlers to just a dozen offensive rebounds. And with less offensive rebounds come fewer second-chance points as Saskatchewan had 20 second-chance points in their win compared to just six on Saturday.
“We responded physically. The challenge on the boards. If you look back at the tape and the video from Saskatoon, they just crashed the boards and pushed us under the rim and bullied us around the basket,” said Bandits’ coach Mike Taylor.
“In Saskatoon, you could physically see guys were missing block outs, were just turning to rebound and today we answered that challenge and responded physically. You want to clear the circle to control the defensive boards, and this was our mantra today and the guys really responded to it.”
Also working in Fraser Valley’s favor was the fact Saskatchewan centre Jody Tshimanga was ejected in the third quarter alongside the Bandits’ Maxie Esho, after the two became tangled and had to be separated by teammates.
The 6 ft. 11 in. Tshimanga recorded a double-double in the first meeting between the two teams with 14 points and 13 rebounds, but on Saturday he was saddled with two fouls in the first five minutes and was held to six points and three rebounds in just under 11 minutes of action.
The melee seemed to favour the Rattlers as they hit both free throws – Esho had been called for a foul preceding the double technical fouls – and then Saskatoon hit back-to-back three-pointers to stretch their lead 62-56 with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
But the Bandits closed the quarter with a 13-2 run for a 69-67 advantage before pulling away in the fourth and winning the Elam Ending when Murphy Burnatowski nailed his seventh three-pointer of the game for the 90-78 victory, improving the Bandits to 3-1 on the CEBL season.
Fitting he got the game-winning shot in the Elam Ending because he shot the ball well and played so well tonight,” Taylor said.
“The experience shows. He’s so smart, he finds his spots to get his shot. When he comes out and hits 7 of 12, that is really going to help our team.”
Burnatowski finished with a season-high 27 points while another Bandits’ big man, Thomas Kennedy chipped in with 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Guard Shane Gibson added 16.
Selected in this year’s CEBL U SPORTS Draft, Kennedy was making his first career start as a member of the Bandits.
Taylor said Kennedy’s advanced stats so far this season were a factor in moving him to the starting line-up for the game and the fourth-year university player from the University of Windsor rewarded the coaching staff’s decision.
“You see a knowledge of the game in Thomas that is on par with some of our veteran players out here and that is something special for a young guy,” Taylor said. “He has great physicality, great energy, great mobility. And what I love about him is he understands how to read the game in situations that I think is beyond his years.
“(Thomas) came in here and played great defence in rim protection and pick and roll coverage and then his ability to finish pick and rolls on the offensive end. Our guards did a great job of finding him – their defence didn’t really have their help-side set up so it was like a clear path to the basket most times.”
The Rattlers finished with four players in double figures, led by Malik Benlevi’s 18 while Tony Carr scored 15, Scottie Lindsey had 14 and Devonte Bandoo chipped in with a dozen points.
Up next for Fraser Valley is another home game as they host the Hamilton Honey Badgers on Tuesday, June 7 (11 a.m. PT) at LEC. The sold-out Tuesday contest will see the Bandits welcome thousands of students as part of its “School Day Game” festivities.
Kennedy said the 3-1 start is a great way to kick off their 2022 campaign, especially considering three of the four games were on the road as now the players are in the comfort of their home building.
“We were able to do our thing, what we like to do before a game which gives you a rhythm and then you come out in front of a crowd like this – it is a big add to every game,” he said. “Great to get a win in front of the home crowd; it was electric.”
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