Saskatchewan Rattlers bounce by the Vancouver Bandits in convincing fashion

Saskatchewan Rattlers guard Justin Wright-Foreman, right, lays up the basketball as Vancouver Bandits forward Nick Ward, left, looks on during CEBL action at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, Sask., on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. PHOTO BY HEYWOOD YU /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

by Darren Zary

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Saskatchewan Rattlers could finally breathe a sigh of relief Wednesday.

For one night, at least.

After a number of close, stressful nail-biting games, and one lop-sided loss they’d rather like to forget, the Rattlers were able to win convincingly for a change.

Secondary scoring helped carry Saskatchewan to an impressive 103-82 win over the visiting Vancouver Bandits in Canadian Elite Basketball League action Wednesday at SaskTel Centre.

“We stared at the lion and now we have two more games to kill the lion,” said Rattlers interim head coach Tanner Massey, whose team improved its CEBL record to 8-10 this season.

Five Rattlers — Malik Benlevi, Quenton DeCosey, Michael Nuga, Trey Niemi and Justin Wright-Foreman — reached double digits Wednesday.

“It’s beautiful (to see),” noted Massey. “It’s good to have multiple handlers and creators on the floor … Just spectacular.”

Wright-Foreman led Saskatchewan in scoring with 22 points together with four rebounds, two steals and two assists. Niemi added a season-high 20 points to go along with three rebounds, two assists and a steal. Nuga had 16 points, three assists, three rebounds and one steal.

DeCosey chipped in with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists for Saskatchewan, which led 27-11 after the opening quarter, 49-37 at half-time and 80-62 after three quarters.

“It’s a great win — every win matters,” said DeCosey. “To keep the momentum into the last two games of the season, we need every win. So this is a great performance by our whole team, a great team effort, and we got a great win.

“The chemistry was really there. We were sharing the ball a lot on offence. We played together on defence as well. We’ve just got to keep it going, keep the momentum going.”

Team captain Malik Benlevi, in his second game back from injury, added 12 points, five assists and five rebounds.

“I’m getting my groove back — I’m feeling good,” said Benlevi. “I’m just ready to keep playing.”

After spotting Vancouver a 6-0 lead, the Rattlers rallied and never trailed once they took a 7-6 lead.

“We started being down 6-0, but the guys settled in,” said Massey. “Sometimes you need that time to settle into the game but it takes a collective group like this, guys who have stayed together the entire season, through the ups and downs, and credit to them. In a way, this is the first time I had to address the team after a win like this and it’s a little different for me.

“All I said is, ‘our mission is still the same; we know what we have to do; we have to keep winning.’

Saskatchewan shot 52 per cent from the field compared to 40 per cent for Vancouver. The Rattlers held a slight 36-35 edge in rebounding but they racked up eight steals compared to three for the Bandits, who had 15 turnovers compared to nine for the Rattlers.

Nick Ward led Vancouver with 19 points. Former Rattlers Alex Campbell, Shaquille Keith and Marlon Johnson — who all played on Saskatchewan’s CEBL championship team in 2018 — were next with 11, 10 points and 8 points, respectively.

The Rattlers also kept their playoff hopes alive as they are chasing both the Edmonton Stingers and Calgary Surge for a Western Conference playoff spot.

The Rattlers will close out the regular season with a home-and-home series against the Surge starting this Saturday in Calgary.

They’ll close out the season the following Friday in the Snake Pit at SaskTel Centre.