Game two is in the books for the Ottawa BlackJacks, and they officially have their first win on home court. Taking on a Guelph Nighthawks team that appeared stacked on paper, the BlackJacks took the lead early and never looked back on the way to a 96-79 victory.
How did the team manage to bounce back from their disastrous season opener? Let’s take a look at how the game went down.
Hoping to get off to a faster start than in their opener, the BlackJacks opted to open the game with three guards and two forwards. The move seemed to be a reaction to the team struggling mightily in the transition game against the River Lions. However, head coach Charles Dube-Brais said that the move was more based on the team still trying to figure out what works best for them as opposed to a reaction from anything that took place against Niagara.
“Well, unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of preseason games to test out different things. There’s a lot of players in this group that have different resumes,” the coach said. “We’re learning more about our guys. The more we go and practice and the more we play games.”
He added that the team was willing to sacrifice some size to increase their playmaking.
“We tried some stuff in the first game and it didn’t work out as much and we wanted more playmaking out there tonight. We sacrificed a little bit of size in the meantime and the results paid off. We thought Guelph was a team we could do that against, and we’ll see what we got because I thought it was a great team win and a lot of guys contributed whether they were starters or off the bench guys,” he said.
Whatever the reasoning was, the move paid immediate dividends as the team came out on a 19-11 run, capitalized by a number of Nick Ward dunks. The BlackJacks led 28-16 at the break after controlling all aspects in the game, making good on their desire to “land the first punch”. The change in demeanor was perhaps most noticeable when team captain Earl Calloway gave Ward flack for being slow to get back on a play that ended up as an Ottawa free throw. Ward’s lack of urgency was evident in his -34 rating last game, and Calloway made sure the young star knew that wasn’t going to fly this time around. Thanks to the improved effort, They held the Nighthawks to 6-of-16 shooting in the quarter, including limiting them to 3-of-10 from deep.
Improving On The Opener
The Nighthawks came out firing early in the second quarter with the teams starting off by trading threes. Their improved play continued up to the media time out, where Guelph held a 12-8 lead in the quarter. Tahjai Teague- whose replacement of Eric Kibi in the lineup was the only change the BlackJacks decided to make – was brought in to get his first taste as a professional. His size and aggression meant the BlackJacks didn’t mind giving Ward more rest time than he saw in the opener. Ottawa would lock their opposition down from that point on, with Guelph entering halftime shooting only 37.1% (13-of-35) and going 0-for-8 from three in the quarter. Dube-Brais wasn’t afraid to try a number of lineups, and there wasn’t any single pairing that was a noticeable weak link for the team. That’s a great sign for a team that struggled to find a working combinations in their opener.
The second half started out much like the second quarter, with Guelph seeming to find a couple of hot hands in Cat Barber and Justin Jackson. However, as soon as the Nighthawks would get on a hot streak, the BlackJacks would counter with an entirely different look that would halt any momentum the team had garnered. Notably, the home team would lock down on the perimeter which prevented the visitors from ever being able to do any serious damage.
The BlackJacks entered the fourth quarter with a 13-point lead, and another 19-11 run before the beginning of the Elam ending had put any hopes of a Nighthawks comeback to bed. Once all was told, Ottawa finished a much improved 37-of-70 (48.6%) from the field, 12-of-29 (41.4%) from deep and 16-of-21 (76.2%) from the charity stripe.
The Nighthawks ended their night hitting 27-of-67 (40.3%) from the field, but shot an absolutely dismal 6-of-31 (19.4%) from three. They also struggled from the line, hitting just 19-of-30 (63.3%) free throw attempts.
“We played a lot tougher, to start with,” Dube-Brais said post-game. “I think it started with practice too. We got a good reality check from Niagara. They played a lot harder than we did, so obviously we had to respond to that. We understood the kind of intensity that we needed to play with in order to win games in this league. We just played up to that level tonight and were the aggressors, not the other way around. Maybe (because) it was the first game for Guelph as well. It’s hard to feel that energy in practice and to replicate that. So, we definitely benefitted from that as well. But our players deserve the credit. They played a lot harder; they went out there, they wanted to be dogs and that’s the first piece. Then we just made the adjustments we needed to make.”
Despite the overall team result, Barber finished with 25 points of 57.1% shooting while playing the entirety of the game. Fellow guard Kimbal MacKenzie went down with an ankle injury at the end of the first quarter, which may explain why Barber never came out. Jackson contributed 17 points and 8 rebounds, while Ahmed Hill had 18 points of his own.
A number of BlackJacks had impressive nights, led by the continued emergence of Kadre Gray. In his second game as professional, Gray went off again, scoring 27 points on 8-of-17 (4-for-8 from deep) shooting, and added 8 rebounds and 7 assists to go along with it. Ward finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds on an uber efficient 7-of-11 shooting night. He played 6 minutes fewer than he did in the opener thanks to the emergence of Teague and continued steady play from Ryan Wright, but the added rest allowed him to be much more impactful when he was on the court. Tyrell Green also had a bounce back night against his former team, putting up 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting after scoring just 5 points against the River Lions.
This is much more like the BlackJacks team we expected to see coming into the season. The depth on the roster is their strong point, and that was evident on Monday. The in-game experience and extra practice time obviously gave the team an opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t and they capitalized on that.
Not to keep harping on it, but the incoming presence of Johnny Berhanemeskel and Dominique Archie will only add to the abundance of riches the team currently possesses. At this point, it’s hard to figure out who will come out of the lineup when they do arrive; Alain Louis would be the apparent choice on paper, but after he posted 11 points and 4 rebounds while running the offense against Guelph, how can you justify sitting him?
Still, it’s a problem that most teams in the CEBL would kill to have, and we have a while before it’s something the team has to worry about. For now, the BlackJacks should focus on who they have available now and continue to build upon Monday’s impressive performance.
Next up on the docket is the Hamilton Honey Badgers, a team that lives and dies by the performance of their star guard Lindell Wigginton. He’s capable of going off at any point and single handily bringing his team to victory. The BlackJacks have let a couple star players get hot against them in both games so far, and doing that on Thursday could end up being their demise.
Celebrate the win, but know that there is still work to be done throughout the season. As good as Ottawa looked against the Nighthawks, resting on laurels has been the death of many teams and the BlackJacks can’t let themselves fall into that trap.