Rattlers start their first win streak of season with 88-79 win over Alliance

by Zulfi Sheikh


Justin Wright-Foreman’s 33 points led the Saskatchewan Rattlers (4-6) to an 88-79 win over the Montréal Alliance (5-7), giving his team back-to-back wins for the first time this season.

The league’s top scorer (29.5 PPG) has now passed the 30-point mark in five of the eight games he’s played in. He was a three-level scorer tonight, shooting over 50 per cent from the field and distance, while also going a season-best 10-12 from the line.

It was the Rattlers’ second unit that stepped up in support of their lead guard with Adong Mukuoi and Michael Nuga as the team’s next best scorers, putting up 12 and 11 points off the bench. Malik Benlevi was also impactful, as he played the role of closer, scoring six of his 10 points in Target Score Time.

“It’s big time,” said Wright-Foreman when asked what it means to have other guys produce in this win. “When [teams] don’t have to key in on me…that helps my game open up. The more aggressive I am, the more space for them.”

“It was a great showing for us today that our bench could be reliable in those moments and hit shots…for it all to come together today, it was magical.”

On the other side it was Treveon Graham that led the way for the Alliance, as the big man nearly had the first 20-20 game of the season, as he grabbed a CEBL single game record and career-high 20 boards but finished just one point shy. Alain Louis also put up a double-double with his 10 points and season-high 13 assists, while Ahmad Hill and Nathan Cayo dropped 20 and 17 points respectively.

A guard showdown between Hill and Wright-Foreman looked all but certain in the early goings of this game, as both players scored five of their team’s first nine points. With the squads tied at the 4:29 mark of the frame, it was the Wright-Foreman who began to separate himself. He led all scorers in the quarter as he put up 11 points on 60 per cent shooting to give his team a 24-18 lead after one.

The star guard’s production has been the constant presence for Saskatchewan, the question that has surrounded them to this point has been whether or not the other guys could produce and support their leader The team’s best performances have come on nights when their second unit had asserted themselves, for example, in their three wins the team has been a combined +42 on bench points, compared to a -9 in their losses. 

A couple quick Michael Nuga triples to start the second saw the Rattlers bench showing some of that aforementioned assertiveness as they held a +10 scoring advantage, and unsurprisingly, the first double-digit lead of the game.

However, that was when the Alliance woke up defensively, forcing eight turnovers in the frame. Montréal began pressing up on Saskatchewan’s ball-handlers and a Rattlers’ team who averages 15.7 giveaways a game, looked (pardon the pun) rattled by the strategy as they ended the half with 11 turnovers.

Defense translated to offense for the Alliance as they took those 11 errors by their opponents and turned them into 14 points, sparking a 20-6 run going into the break, and a narrow 42-39 Montréal lead.

That momentum carried into the third as the Alliance extended their lead to as many as 14 points. Unlike the previous frame, turnovers weren’t the main contributor, it was Montréal’s efforts sharing the ball. The team’s first six baskets in the quarter were assisted, four of them being open triples knocked down by Graham and Hill. 

As most fans of the sport know, basketball is a game of runs, and this contest was no different. It was the Rattlers’ second unit that once again led the charge as they worked to cut down Montréal’s lead. The bench duo of Nuga and Makuoi combined for eight points, sparking a 16-5 run that cut the deficit to 65-62 with one quarter to go.

The theme of strong second unit production leading to positive outcomes held true once again for the Rattlers in this contest. The squad finished with a 34-7 advantage in that category, with the margin in bench scoring growing to a combined +69 in their four wins this season.

“It’s very important,” said Saskatchewan head coach Dean Demopoulous when asked about the impact of his second unit producing. “The fact that Justin [Wright-Foreman] trusts them is also very important. We don’t have role players here, we just have basketball players, and that’s how we treat these guys.”

“When they go in, they’re expected to play to the best of their abilities…and we’re getting a little bit better with each time out.”

Wright-Foreman then rewarded his teammates’ efforts by doing what he does best, scoring five points in the first five minutes of the fourth to give his team a 72-71 lead, their first since the 2:27 mark of the second.

With his team up 79-75 as Target Score Time got underway, the Queens, New York, native wasn’t done there. Saskatchewan turned the final moments of this game into a three-point contest as Malik Benlevi drained back-to-back treys before – who else – but Wright-Foreman capped things off with a triple of his own, 88-79 the final.

After struggling from distance throughout the night, it was his teammates that instilled confidence in the team’s leading scorer to keep shooting as he closed out the game.

“My teammates believed in me.” Said Wright-Foreman on what he was thinking about in those final moments. “I wasn’t hitting all game, and my teammates, when I came back to the bench, told me to stop playing around…they instantly got on me.”

“Credit to them for getting me through the second half and the whole game. I’m just happy I could get it done for my teammates today.”

The Rattlers will hope to keep the momentum of this win going as they face a quick turnaround with another matchup against an Eastern Conference opponent tomorrow night. They’ll visit the Scarborough Shooting Stars where they’ll try and make it three wins in a row while fighting to climb out of last place in the Western Conference Standings.

The Alliance are now back at the bottom of the East but remain within striking distance of team’s 1-4 as they return to action on Monday where they’ll continue their four-game homestand by taking on the top team in the league, the Winnipeg Sea Bears. 

“We play so hard,” said Graham post game. “No matter who is in front of us, we attack them…it’s just about putting it all together.”