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PREVIEW: Nationally ranked Knights look to stay hot in second half

PREVIEW: Nationally ranked Knights look to stay hot in second half

The number 5 nationally ranked Niagara Knights basketball program (6-1, 3rd OCAA West) entered the holiday break on their longest winning streak since the 2001-02 season. 

After dropping their season opener to the undefeated Sheridan Bruins (7-0, 1st OCAA West), the Knights rattled off six straight victories to cap off the first half of the OCAA regular season. However, with the second half comes a new set of challenges and a second chance at all of the first half opponents from the Western division. 

Having opened the season ranked 13th, Niagara has steadily moved themselves up eight spots in the rankings. Looking to pickup where they left off, the Knights will rely on the same cast that has rocketed them up the national rankings. 

Leading the way offensively for Niagara has been 3rd year guard Lequan Hylton (Mississauga). Hylton has nearly doubled his points per game average from a season ago, going from 8.4 during the 2015-16 season to 16.0 points per game so far this season. Three other Knights have averaged double digits this season, with Van Hutchinson Jr (Nassau, Bahamas), Levi Mukuna (Hamilton), and Jordon McDonald (Mississauga) all averaging over 10 points per game. 

As a team, the Knights use a consistent all around game to get the job done. Although they do not dominate in any statistical categories, the Knights are ranked in the upper half of the league in nearly every statistical category. 

After a long layoff from the OCAA regular season, the Knights will return to the court on January 12th when they welcome the Mohawk Mountaineers to Welland (4-5, 5th OCAA West). Head Coach Keith Vassell believe the work put in during the layoff will be beneficial. "I am excited to see the results of our preparation in a tough Western division," said Vassell, "We are motivated and hungry to get going after a long holiday break."

With nine games remaining in the regular season, the Knights have their eyes on a first round playoff bye. Both the 1st and 2nd place teams in the division at the conclusion of the regular season will earn a bye directly to the OCAA Championships. This year's edition takes place from March 2-4 at Centennial College in Scarborough, as the Knights look to reach the OCAA podium for the first time since 2008-09 when they collected the bronze medal.