Debut win: Saskatchewan Rattlers tame Winnipeg Sea Bears; Harris hits winning shot

Saskatchewan Rattlers guard Jalen Harris (1) lays up the basketball against Winnipeg Sea Bears during the first half of CEBL basketball action at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, Sask., on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. PHOTO BY HEYWOOD YU HEYWOOD YU PHOTO /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Darren Zary

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Rattlers 94, Sea Bears 86

At first, you don’t succeed, try and try again.

The Saskatchewan Rattlers had many tries, as it turns out, to hit the Elam-ending target score of 93 against the Winnipeg Sea Bears in their Canadian Elite Basketball League season-opener Wednesday night at SaskTel Centre.

A last-gasp lay-up by Jalen Harris finally put the Rattlers in the win column to kick off the 2024 season in delayed style.

“It was good to have a little adversity like that, for the first one,” said Harris, a former Toronto Raptor who finished the game with 23 points and four assists in his Rattlers debut.

Saskatchewan was sitting with a 92-83 lead — just one point short of the winning target score — for what seemed like forever. Harris himself missed a free throw that could have won it. Grant Basile missed a couple of free-throw attempts, as well, after taking an elbow to the head while drawing an intentional unsportsmanlike foul on Sea Bear star player Teddy Allen, who landed on Basile under the basket.

Elijah Harkless missed a jumper, too, before Harris finally put the game away.

“I might need a hair-dye sponsor — that was super stressful,” admitted Rattlers head coach Larry Abney, who won his CEBL debut and added a few grey hairs in the process.

“We had a couple of chances to put it away with a free-throw. Obviously we have to get into the gym and work on our free-throws. I have to do a better job putting our guys in better positions to end the quarters.

“It’s a learning process and ’m glad that we learned, coming out with the win.”

Harkless racked up 19 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and four steals while making his CEBL debut with the Rattlers.

“Ej came out and played a great game — he was big for us tonight,” praised Harris. “It was his first game in this league. He came out and let it know early that he’s going to be here. It was a great game by him and I look forward to the next one, for sure.”

Free agent acquisition Maurice Calloo, formerly of the Calgary Surge, added 22 points and six boards.

Rookie Grant Basile also impressed in his first CEBL game, finishing with 16 points, 14 rebounds and a steal.

Allen, last year’s CEBL MVP, led all scorers with 40 points to go along with 11 rebounds and four assists.

“Teddy might have had 40 but it wasn’t a winning 40,” noted Harris, a former teammate of Allen on the Scarborough Shooting Stars. “It was our whole team, collectively, out there being disruptive (defensively), helping each other. We’re just out there, just trying to win each game.

“It was definitely a momentum-builder. We’re still trying to build that chemistry, each game, each practice. Everything is another step towards that, towards our goal, but tonight was definitely a good stepping stone, for sure.”

Darius Days added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Sea Bears.

Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson — who starred for Garden City at the BRIT tournament in Saskatoon back during his high school days — had 12 points, seven assists and one steal.

Saskatchewan had gone up 91-80 on a bucket by Maurice Calloo before the Rattlers began their run of misses.

Earlier in the game, Saskatchewan led by as many as 17 in the second quarter. The Rattlers were up by 15, 48-33, before the Sea Bears finished the first half with a 12-2 run to make it 50-45 at half-time.

The Rattlers built up a 12-point lead by the end of the third quarter and then hung on for a wild finish.

“It was a good atmosphere, a competitive game,” said Harris. “We built a lead but you know who the game is — it’s a game of runs. They fought back. They’re a good team. They were the best team in the league last year, almost. For us to go out there like that and get a good win first game, we felt good about it, for sure.”

Saskatchewan will play again Saturday at home, this time against the Montreal Alliance. Game-time is 7:30 p.m. at SaskTel Centre.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Abney said of his CEBL debut. “Obviously, I’ve never coached in this league. My assistants are great on the bench. I always felt like I knew what was going on. Our staff did an amazing job just helping me out. I was trying to call a timeout a couple of times during live play so there are a couple of adjustments I have to get used to, but, overall, it was a good first game.”