With the first win of the season under their belts, the Ottawa BlackJacks are looking to make it two in a row when they host the Hamilton Honey Badgers.
Like Ottawa, the team from the Hammer dropped their first game only to rebound with a win. So how do these two teams compare to one another? Let’s take a closer look.
Despite having an even 1-1 record after starting off with a loss and then picking up a win, Hamilton’s record should probably be reversed. They looked very good against an Edmonton team that was deservingly the odds-on favorites to win the championship coming into this year. They got hot late but couldn’t pull out the W after going toe-to-toe the whole game, falling 91-87.
Against the Rattlers, the Honey Badgers barely managed to squeak out a win against a team that looks to still be finding their game early in the season. Scoring only 73 points, Hamilton was lucky Lindell Wigginton was able to drag his team to victory on the back of a 20-point game.
Wigginton will no doubt be key to the game again on Thursday. He’s been one of the best players in the league thus far, averaging 25 points on 53.8% shooting over his first two games. He’s someone who can take over games early if he’s allowed to get hot. The BlackJacks have already been keeping an eye on him, and believe they have the tools to keep him quiet.
“Just show him a lot of bodies,” Tyrell Green said on Wednesday after practice. “Just be physical with him, just talk and communicate. He’s a great player, obviously he’s going to score, we just have to make it tough for him.”
While Wigginton is the only player on the team to really get going so far, it’s not as though the team lacks talent on the court. Kalif Young is averaging nine points on a ridiculous 72.7% from the field. If Hamilton can find a way to get him more looks in the paint, he can be an absolute force. Also suiting up in the black and yellow is Trevon Duval. The former Duke player has experience playing for Houston and Milwaukee in the NBA, and has lots of experience playing for Minnesota’s G-League team. A 6’6″ guard, he’s sure to cause lots of problems once he gets going. They also possess Brampton’s Kenny Ejim, a big wing whose size can create problems for teams down low.
“I think we know what we have to do,” Green said about facing Hamilton. “We have to come out with the energy and a defensive mindset. Once we take care of those two things… offensively we’re not really worried. We know we can score. We have a lot of guys who can score. As long as we take care of the defense and our energy, we’ll be alright.”
After a game where almost nothing went right in their opener, Ottawa answered with a game where it appeared they could do no wrong. Though the Nighthawks went on a couple runs in the game – as will happen in any basketball game – the BlackJacks led from tip-off to the final buzzer with Guelph never really posing a threat to come back in the game.
According to Green, a large part of the team’s ability to bounce back was thanks to the mindset they kept after suffering the humbling loss. He said the team never doubted their ability, which allowed them to have the kind of game they did against Guelph.
“We were still positive because we knew that we didn’t play up to the level that we’re capable of playing,” said Green. “So, we just had to go back, watch the film and make a few adjustments. I felt like our energy was a big factor in the second game that we didn’t have in the first game. I think that was the big key and we just have to keep it up now. Now we know what to expect, we know what we have to come out and do every night, so I think that we’re going to be prepared.”
Kadre Gray showed off once again, scoring 27 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. A number of players had bounce back games, including Nick Ward. The Michigan State big man owned the paint, especially early, and finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting. Green had 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting after scoring only five points against Niagara. For him, he feels he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.
“I think it’s just me just getting comfortable just playing again. I didn’t play this season, so I’m just trying to get my legs back, get my rhythm back. I think each game that goes on, I’m going to just get better and better and get more comfortable with the guys and everything.”
With the number of players who had an improved showing in the second outing, it appears that gaining comfort in themselves and the team is something many players can attest to.
Again, a large part of the success the BlackJacks saw against the Nighthawks was thanks to their depth. Coach Charles Dube-Brais was able to play his entire bench without fear of his team being outmatched. Even players who would normally be considered role players stepped up and had solid performances, such as Alain Louis, who put up 11 points and 4 rebounds while being entrusted to run the offense at points throughout the game. According to Green, it’s a mentality that the players have had since coming into training camp.
“I just feel like everyone kind of came in with the same mentality. We’re all just going to compete and whatever roles are given, everyone is going to take it and try to be the star in their role. We have a lot of veterans here and pros who have played and understand that. We all have one goal, and that’s to win a championship. Whatever that calls for everyone to do, we’re going to be willing to do it.”
Ottawa’s bench actually got even deeper on Wednesday, as Johnny Berhanemeskel came out of quarantine and was able to practice with the team for the first time after finishing his season in France. Given that he’s been sitting in a hotel room for the past two weeks, it’s unlikely that we’ll see him play on Thursday as he tries to get his legs back under him. But given the amount of trust Dube-Brais has been willing to show in his players, I wouldn’t count him out completely.
The way Hamilton has played thus far in the season makes this game hard to predict. Normally, given the two games both teams have played, I’d feel fine giving the edge to Ottawa. But the Honey Badgers have so many players who we just know are ready to go off at some point that the BlackJacks have to be aware of. There’s no doubt that Wigginton single-handedly presents a threat to any team Hamilton faces, but it would be wrong to think he’s the only player they have to worry about.
This smaller line-up that the BlackJacks showed off against Guelph looks like it can keep up with anyone and push the pace with the best of them. Dube-Brais said he went with that line-up because he felt they could sacrifice size against the Nighthawks. It will be interesting to see if he goes with it again against the Honey Badgers, or if he goes with more size up front to hold off Young.
The match-up looks as though it should create a fun game to watch, and one that should serve as a good indication as to where Ottawa ranks among the league. A win here would be huge to push them over .500 as they embark on a stretch which will see them play five of their next seven games on the road. If they come out with the same aggression and defensive intensity that we saw against Guelph, all signs point to an Ottawa win.