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Potential battle of the bench looms as Niagara River Lions tip off against Fraser Valley Bandits

The two undefeated teams meet on the court at 10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. local time at the Abbotsford Centre
ThoroldToday file photo shows a packed house greeting the Niagara RIver Lions at the Meridian Centre for their home opener in the new Canadian Elite Basketball League in May 2019. Bob Liddycoat / Thorold News

The Niagara River Lions travel west to take on the Fraser Valley Bandits on June 29 at 10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. local time at the Abbotsford Centre, marking a clash between two undefeated teams early in this CEBL season.

Both Niagara and Fraser Valley won their first contest of the year, topping the Ottawa BlackJacks and Saskatchewan Rattlers, respectively.

Fraser Valley will continue to use their rotation depth, as strong contributions off the bench helped the Bandits seal a 92-74 victory against Saskatchewan.

The performer of the night in Niagara’s season opener was Jaylen Babb Harrison, who also came off the bench and led his team with 30 points en route to a 103-78 win over Ottawa.

Tonight’s matchup features two deep and offensively driven teams who found success in game one thanks to a full team effort.

The Bandits’ bench strength

Alex Campbell came off the bench in his debut for the Fraser Valley Bandits and led all scorers with 25 points on the night. The former Rattler, alongside another former teammate in Shaquille Keith, provided a boost helping to erase a nine-point Rattlers lead in the second quarter. Keith finished with 15 points and six rebounds on the night.

Fraser Valley had four players who scored in double digits including the aforementioned Campbell and Keith, as well as, guard Jamal Reynolds and centre Brandon Gilbeck. With more than double the games this year, rotation depth will be key for the Bandits this season.

“The way they built this team we can go one through ten,” said Campbell, in a post-game interview on Saturday. “I have trust in the coaching staff and there’s a method to the madness and I’m going to play my role and do what I do in order to get wins like today.”

In their run to the 2020 CEBL Championship last year, Fraser Valley became known as a tough, hard-working squad who won games because of a full team buy-in. Although head coach and general manager, Kyle Julius remains overseas in Taiwan this summer, interim head coach David Singleton plans to stick to this team-first mentality which brought success last season.

River Lions rotation

The Niagara River Lions also triumphed on opening night due to strong contributions off the bench. Canadian Jaylen Babb- Harrison checked into the game midway through the first quarter and never looked back, leading all players with 30 points. The Ajax, Ont., native exhibited sharp shooting from beyond the arc, going eight for 11 from three-point range. The River Lions bench contributed 44 points overall.

Forward Grant Shephard also played sizable minutes off the bench and was instrumental in containing Ottawa BlackJack forward Nick Ward. Shephard, alongside starting forward Javin Delaurier will be tasked with guarding Fraser Valley’s big man, Brandon Gilbeck. The seven-foot centre was an offseason acquisition for the Bandits and was crucial in their season-opening win, scoring 17 points.

Battle of the backcourt

In addition to a battle of the benches, tonight’s matchup will also feature a battle of the backcourts as strong guard play on both teams proved pivotal in their game one wins.

The River Lions will be without Trae Bell-Haynes, who cracked the roster for the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team and will be participating in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, B.C. Since the River Lions will be without their floor general for the last two seasons, returning guard Kassius Robertson and reigning CEBL U SPORTS Player of the Year, Llyod Pandi will be tasked with filling this role.

Fraser Valley also boasts a strong backcourt in returning guards Malcolm Duvivier and long-time Bandit and Abbotsford native, Marek Klassen. Campbell has also fit well within the Fraser Valley system. The Bandits’ backcourt will be key in both this game, and moving forward this season. All CEBL games will be available for live streaming on the CEBL’s new OTT streaming service, CEBL+,, the free CBC Gem streaming service, the CBC Sports App for iOS and android devices, and on Twitch.

A league created by Canadians for Canadians, the CEBL has the highest percentage of Canadian players of any professional league in the country, with 75 per cent of its current rosters being Canadians. Players bring experience from the NBA, NBA G League, top international leagues, the Canadian National team program, and top NCAA programs as well as U SPORTS. The only First Division Professional League Partner of Canada Basketball, the CEBL season typically runs from May through August. Head to for more information or follow us on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, Facebook & YouTube.