St Catharine’s – The Fraser Valley Bandits were 4-16 last year and a terrible team playing for loyal fans.
In the off season, there was hoops surgery that is now paying off.
The Bandits defeated Hamilton in the CEBL summer Series Semi Final 76-75 to advance to Sunday’s final.
The Fraser Valley Bandits pulled off a miraculous comeback in the semifinals of the CEBL Summer Series on Saturday afternoon, turning around a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and winning a game for the ages on the strength of a reverse lay-up from Olu Ashaolu that sealed the game, 76-75. With the win, the Bandits advance to the CEBL Championship game Sunday afternoon where they will meet the Edmonton Stingers, 88-75 winners over the Ottawa BlackJacks in the back-end of Saturday’s semifinal double-header.
After finishing last in the league standings during the 2019 inaugural season with a 4-16 record, the Bandits hit reset and entered the 2020 campaign with one returning player – Marek Klassen. Head coach and general manager Kyle Julius recruited an entirely new roster that was athletic and guard oriented. With a roster featuring eight guards and two forwards, pundits labelled the Bandits undersized. But they failed to account for the size of the hearts in the orange and blue jerseys.
The Bandits trailed the Honey Badgers 39-32 at halftime and 64-50 entering the final period. A 12-1 run during the first five-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter cut the deficit to 65-62, and a Junior Cadougan three-pointer made the score 67-65 in favour of Hamilton heading into the Elam Ending.
With an Elam Ending target score of 76, the Honey Badgers clawed to a 73-67 lead after Mukama hit a pair of free throws. The Bandits clamped down defensively and converted one timely bucket after another. Ashaolu hit a lay-up to put the Bandits ahead, 74-73, but the lead was short-lived as Kalif Young threw down another dunk to draw Hamilton to within a single point of victory. But the Bandits would not be denied a comeback. Ashaolu barrelled his way to the rim off a pass from Cadougan and dropped in the game winning basket on a reverse lay-up.
“We lost our composure a few times today, but I think we regrouped. I don’t think it’s about not losing your composure, it’s about how you react to it, and I think we did a great job of that,” Julius said. “If we don’t make that last shot and they make the last shot, I’m really proud of the fight in our guys.
It was Fraser Valley’s third come-from-behind victory of the season, with the previous two coming over Saskatchewan and Guelph.
One week removed from a 102-96 thriller during round robin play that ended with a Hamilton Honey Badgers victory, these two teams picked up right where they left off.
Hamilton got out to a big lead in the first half as rising star Jean-Victor Mukama continued his hot shooting, scoring 14 of his 18 first-half points in the second quarter, fueling an 11-point run for Hamilton. Mukama nailed four three-pointers in the second quarter to fuel a 39-32 lead for the Honey Badgers at halftime.
Hamilton continued to pull away from Fraser Valley in the third quarter on the ability to navigate the pick-and-roll and break the Bandits down off the dribble, leading to 14 points in the paint for the team in pinstripes. Young threw down a two-handed slam a split a pair of free throws in the quarter’s closing moments to give the Honey Badgers a 14-point lead entering the final frame.
The Bandits were left to play the fourth quarter without Marcus Capers, who was ejected from the game midway through the third for unsportsmanlike conduct after appealing a foul call to the officials.
With a small-ball lineup of four guards in Cadougan, Jahenns Manigat, Malcolm Duvivier, Klassen and Ashaolu as the lone forward, Fraser Valley came alive in the fourth quarter. The Bandits outscored the Honey Badgers 26-11 in final frame, though Fraser Valley did not take the lead until the game’s closing moments.
“We’re happy to get over that hump,” Ashaolu said. “I think this game of basketball is about trying to win possessions – you’re trying to win possessions offensively and defensively and put some stops together.”
The semifinal win marks another exciting chapter in the Bandits’ bounce back season. The loss sends Hamilton home with a 4-4 record.
“To their credit, they kept competing as we knew they would,” said Honey Badgers head coach Ryan Schmidt, who had his contract extended July 31 for the 2021 season. “We made way too many mistakes and too many self-inflicted errors. But like I said, hats off to them. I thought they played a good game. They competed from start to finish, and we didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to win.”
The Bandits and Stingers will compete for the league championship Sunday, with tip-off scheduled for 12 p.m. ET (10 a.m. MT, 9 a.m. PT).