Vancouver Bandits hold off Saskatchewan Rattlers with 92-89 rollercoaster win

Guard Justin Wright-Foreman lines up a shot during Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Bandits.

by Dillon White


The Vancouver Bandits (4-4) escaped with a narrow 92-89 victory over the Saskatchewan Rattlers (2-5) in a thriller at Langley Events Centre on Saturday night.

Bandits’ big man Nick Ward struggled from the free throw line all night but found redemption with the game-winner at the charity stripe. Ward finished with a team-high 22 points on 8-13 shooting from the field and 5-11 from the line to go along with seven rebounds.

“You know what? I was missing free throws all game, so I just had to relax, take a second and remember my fundamentals,” Ward said.

Vancouver guard Shane Gibson netted 21 points in his return to Langley Events Centre, while Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 17 points and six rebounds in the win. Malcolm Duvivier also made some timely plays for the Bandits and contributed 10 points.

“We got our guys together. This is the team that we originally built,” Vancouver head coach Kyle Julius said. “Having Gibson here making shots and Shaq Keith here…this is the team we really wanted and we have a nice ability to play two bigs or one big.”

Justin Wright-Foreman returned to the lineup for the Rattlers after a two-game absence and proved why the New York Knicks gave him a look. The American guard tallied a game-high 35 points and 12 rebounds on 11-21 shooting from the field, 4-9 from three and 9-9 from the line.

Jermel Kennedy and Michael Nuga rounded out the Rattlers’ attack with 14 points and 13 points respectively. No other Saskatchewan player reached double figures in the contest.

“It doesn’t matter. Secondary scoring – what difference does it make who scores as long as you do? It’s not an issue for me,” Saskatchewan head coach Dean Demopoulos said.

The Bandits were ultra-efficient in the matchup, shooting 54 per cent from the field and 42 per cent from three. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan finished at 46 per cent from the field and 31 per cent from three. Vancouver also outrebounded the Rattlers 40-33.

“It was a good ball game. It was hotly contested but the better team won today for the 40 minutes we were on the floor,” Demopoulos said.

The first quarter saw both teams get off to a slow start. Saskatchewan and Vancouver made one field goal each midway through the quarter but started to find a flow as the game progressed. Duvivier and Wright-Foreman led the way for their respective offences with seven points apiece in the first quarter. The Rattlers held on to a narrow 14-12 lead heading into the second.

In just his second game of the season, Gibson got going in the second quarter for the Bandits. However, Wright-Foreman, Roche and Kennedy helped the Rattlers extend their lead to 10. Vancouver was able to punch back with a 9-3 run of their own to close the quarter that featured a pair of long range jumpers from Bezhanishvili. Saskatchewan maintained their two-point lead at halftime at 41-39.

The Bandits came out of the break on a mission. Vancouver started the second half with a 12-0 run that began with another pair of Bezhanishvili buckets. After a timeout from Demopoulos, Saskatchewan fought their way back to a one-possession game. The Bandits went on a mini-run of their own to re-establish an eight point lead, but a transition jam from Tsegakele and deep Kennedy three cut the deficit to 63-60 heading into the fourth quarter.

In the final frame, both teams grappled for control in a tight game in which Vancouver maintained the lead. After the four-minute mark, the game went over two minutes without a whistle and Ward scored six points to give the Bandits an 83-78 lead into target score time.

Gibson drilled a short corner fadeaway jumper for Vancouver to begin the final stretch, but Kennedy and Wright-Foreman hit back-to-back triples to make it a one-point game. Duane Notice answered with a clutch three of his own from the corner and Ward finished inside to put the Bandits one bucket away from victory.

Ward missed a free throw to win, and back-to-back buckets from Nuga put Saskatchewan a triple away from victory as well. Kennedy had an open look to win the game for the Rattlers but couldn’t connect. Ward was fouled the other way and redeemed a night of struggles at the line with a game-winning free throw. Both teams will face the Winnipeg Sea Bears after Saturday’s result, with Vancouver visiting Canada Life Centre on Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT and Saskatchewan heading there on Friday at 7 p.m. CT.