‘End of the Storybook’; Massey’s return gives Saskatchewan Rattlers a win

“I’m pretty happy that we had the chance to close our home stand with a win. It’s a great place here. All year they have been very, very, very supportive.”

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Rattlers 84, Nighthawks 80

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Almost too good to be true.

There he is, Bruce Massey back with the Saskatchewan Rattlers after a three-year absence. His very first game back, he has a chance to win the game on the free throw line.

Two chances, actually.

And he needed both.

Massey missed his first free throw but drained his second to hit Elam’s final target score for the Rattlers, who defeated the Guelph Nighthawks 84-80 to close out the regular season home schedule at the SaskTel Centre.

“Storybook ending,” smiled Massey, an original member of the Rattlers in the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s inaugural 2019 season who cut that season short in preparation to play overseas in Ukraine.

“It was great to be back. The energy in the arena was amazing tonight and I felt the lightning in the first season.

You could barely hear a pin drop as Massey lined up and took a deep breath at the charity line. Then Guelph called a time out. It was like an NFL team trying to freeze the kicker. And, at first, it worked.

“It was a bad pass, wasn’t it?” Massey confessed. “They kind of froze me with the timeout, but I knew it was two for one. We are confident on the free throw line. I think we made this game harder than it needed to be, but we have two new players (Massey and Anton Gaddefors) and we have to learn to play together.

“We had a really good assist to rotation ratio – 24 passes / eight rotations. If we play like that, we won’t miss as many open shots. I like what we did there today. A few minor tweaks and you’ll be fine.

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Saskatchewan Rattlers Bruce Massey looks for a pass under pressure from AJ Hess during first half CEBL action in Saskatoon on Thursday July 21, 2022.
Saskatchewan Rattlers Bruce Massey looks for a pass under pressure from AJ Hess during first half CEBL action in Saskatoon on Thursday July 21, 2022. Photo by Matt Smith /Star Phoenix of Saskatoon

Massey finished with 10 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and no turnovers while coming into a supporting role in his 2022 CEBL debut as the Rattlers improved to 9-8 and the Nighthawks slipped to 8-9.

“It’s good to have know-how and experience,” Rattlers coach Dean Demopoulos said. “It’s always important, especially down the stretch and trying to get into those playoffs and go from there. It was a collective team victory. I think the other team played very, very well. I don’t think we shot the ball particularly well, but our defense was better than it was at times and our assist to rotation ratio for the first time this year is something I’m extremely proud of.

And Massey?

“Well, hey, they didn’t freeze it enough,” Demopoulos added. “I’m pretty happy that we had the chance to close our home pit with a win. It’s a great place here. All year they’ve been very, very, very supportive and we haven’t played great basketball all the time but they’ve stuck with us through it all and I’m really, really happy that these guys in have released one for home. Fans.”

Saskatchewan Rattlers guard Tony Carr drives the ball under pressure from Guelph Nighthawks forward TJ Hall during first half CEBL action in Saskatoon on Thursday July 21, 2022.
Saskatchewan Rattlers guard Tony Carr drives the ball under pressure from Guelph Nighthawks forward TJ Hall during first half CEBL action in Saskatoon on Thursday July 21, 2022. Photo by Matt Smith /Star Phoenix of Saskatoon

Tony Carr led Saskatchewan with 18 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and a steal. Devonte Bandoo added 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal. Mr. Versatility Malik Benlevi contributed with 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a huge blocked shot early in the end for Elam.

“One of my coaches always told me, ‘people remember the first and last thing you do.’ The first thing I did was win a home game and we won our last home game so everyone will remember that,” said Benlevi, a native of Savannah, Georgia.

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“I loved (the atmosphere). The crowd, they kept rocking us, even when we were coming down. They were still with us. I thank them for coming all year round and supporting us.

Big man Jordy Tshimanga also had 14 shots with nine rebounds, one assist and one steal.

He helped the Rattlers take a 12-3 lead, but outside shooting cooled.

“We were, like, 2 for 17 or something in the first half,” Demopoulos noted. “This team is a shooting team. They are used to shooting. They usually do three. They are used to taking them. They are encouraged to take them when they are good. But you have to be able to win the game when the ball doesn’t go in the basket and we made a rush in defense and luckily we took it out.

With just four games left in the regular season and the final three on the road, Massey was brought in after Scottie Lindsey had to return home for personal reasons.

“It’s really good to be back,” Massey said. “It felt good to finally be on the ground. I have to see everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. I have to see who our shooters are, who our rebounders are, who our slashers are. Now I have something to look forward to training before hitting the road on Saturday.

“Of course, these are tough games and the end of Elam doesn’t make things any easier. The game must end with a successful shot. You have to strap in and make shots. We did it today.

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