Looking to gain some momentum with back-to-back wins, the Ottawa BlackJacks came up short in what was ultimately a highly entertaining, back-and-forth game. After trailing at the half, they came back to make a game of it right up to the wire, until Lindell Wigginton called game with a three-pointer for a 99-92 Hamilton Honey Badger win.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and how the team can build off the loss.
As entertaining as the game ended up being, it wasn’t without more than its fair share of nastiness. Hamilton came out with a gameplan of double-teaming Nick Ward in the paint, which lead to a lot of clutching, grabbing, trash talking and foul calling down low. By the time the second quarter had ended, Ottawa had picked up 15 fouls to Hamilton’s 13, with Ward picking up a technical for arguing with the referee and Wigginton picking one up for kicking his leg out to draw a foul of his own.
This meant both teams were forced to dig deep into their rotation early, especially the BlackJacks, who went long stretches without a single starter on the court. The Honey Badgers were able to take advantage of the mismatches that were created, which ultimately lead to a 52-42 lead at the half.
Wigginton Wigging Out
One of the best – if not the best – players in the league so far, Wigginton got hot early and never looked back. He had 18 points at halftime, and would finish with 33 points thanks in large part to shooting 7-of-11 from three.
“I just go into the game confident,” Wigginton said after the game. “My teammates and my coaching staff help me go into the game confident and that’s what I go out there and do. I love the game of basketball. I got out there and play to do what I got to do. Really, I just play as a team and try to get my guys the ball.”
On top of the tremendous performance we’re becoming accustomed to seeing from Wigginton, the rest of the Honey Badgers were also able to find their game as well. Team captain J.V. Mukama, who entered the game shooting 16.7%, finally had the game he’s capable of, putting up 17 points on 5-for-10 shooting. G-League import Trevon Duval also had his breakthrough game, scoring 18 points in 23 minutes.
“That’s the thing, we have multiple weapons on the offensive end to where once we get other guys going, it’s going to open things up for Lindell,” Hamilton coach Ryan Schmidt said. “You saw Trevon (Duval) actually had a good game, just the ability to get to the rim and finish. But yeah, with Lindell kind of leading the way, it’s nice to see the scoring spread out a little bit.”
Johnny Berhanemeskel made his return to the BlackJacks after completing his two-week quarantine since coming back from France. Somewhat surprisingly, Kyle Johnson ended up being the odd man out thanks to the return. Johnson offers good size at the guard positions, which probably would have helped defensively against a team that relies so heavily on scoring from the perimeter. However, Alain Louis’ play meant it would have been hard to justify sitting him, so what Johnson would or wouldn’t have done will forever remain a one of life’s many ‘what-ifs’.
‘Johnny Buckets’ lived up to the nickname in his first game of the season, leading the team with 17 points. He said afterwards that it felt good just to be back in a BlackJacks uniform again.
“I felt good,” he said. “I was happy to be out there and playing. Long overdue playing on this court, so it was fun. I’m just happy to play basketball, especially during these times.”
“It’s always fun playing in Ottawa. I got a lot of ties to people, whether its on the staff or players. I worked with the staff last year, the management and what not. It’s a blessing and I’m always grateful to play, and it means more being in Ottawa every time, for sure.”
Foul trouble meant lots of players got extra playing time, and the team had a season-high 5 players finish in double-digits. Earl Calloway had his best game of the season, finishing with 11 points and 5 assists. Ward, limited to just over 20 minutes of playing time, had 13 points and 8 rebounds while also showing off his improved shooting, hitting 2-of-3 from deep. Kadre Gray, while having far from a bad game, looked human for the first time, scoring 15 points to go with 7 rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting.
When the team was able to have their regulars on the court to start the second half, they were able to produce a 23-12 run that put them up 65-64, their first lead of the game. In particular, Tyrell Green was able to find his game, scoring 8 points after being held off the scoresheet in the first half. They would get their lead as high as 70-66, but the Honey Badgers would take the lead back at the end of the quarter before controlling the rest of the game.
Veteran big man Ryan Wright spoke about what it’s like being in a game with that much chirpiness going on. He said for him, it’s just about making sure the younger players on the team learn how to control themselves in those situations.
“One of the things that I try to instil in the team is to not really worry about things that you can’t control,” Wright said. “Don’t worry about calls, don’t worry about any of that stuff. Just stick with what we do and stick with our principles…we got to be able to stick with our principles and be able to execute defensively and offensively and keep a level head. Unfortunately, we’re in a position where it’s a short season, and we don’t have a lot of time to play through things and just figure it out. We got to be able to adjust on the fly. Hopefully we can take this as a learning lesson and improve on the next one.”
Ottawa decided to go with the same smaller starting lineup they put out against Guelph. While it meant they didn’t get burned in transition in the first game, it also meant that they allowed themselves to get involved in a shootout, which isn’t the BlackJacks style.
Also, if Ward is going to be the type of dominant player everyone thinks he is going to be, he has to stop letting the refs get the better of him. We saw it in the first game, where he complains every time he doesn’t get a call, then shows no urgency getting back on defense. Yes, some of the calls against him were weak. Yes, there were a lot of no calls going his way. Getting angry and getting T’d up isn’t going to change any of that, so he has to learn to play through it. The team relies heavily on his presence down low, and as we saw on Thursday, they can’t afford to have him sitting for long stretches. Head coach Charles Dube-Brais agrees.
“They had a plan against (Nick Ward), and he’s got to fight through it,” the coach said. “He’s the strongest guy there is in this league, and strong guys are tough to officiate because everyone has to be ultra physical with them and certainly foul them a lot.
“It gets frustrating, but he had to maintain his composure and get through it. Especially possessions where he gets fouled and it’s not going to be called… Shaquille O’Neal was the hardest player ever to referee. It’s a great compliment to mention Nick Ward in the same sentence, but in terms of pure strength and the fact that there’s no true solution against him, he’s got to maintain composure and has to stay away from that technical foul he got.”
Dropping to 1-2 on the season hurts, especially considering this was a game they could have won and will now play the next 5 of 7 on the road. They have a tough schedule in front of them, facing the 3-0 Fraser Valley Bandits next before traveling to Edmonton to take on the defending champs.
If there was one good thing to take away from Thursday, it’s that the team got the experience of playing in a tough, hard game after the first two were blowouts.
“It’s certainly a learning experience for us,” Dube-Brais said. “Not every game is going to be a blow out like we’ve had in the first two games. Not that they weren’t tough, it was not an easy win against Guelph, but we certainly (had) more energy and intensity than (Guelph) had in the first quarter, so that helped kind of set the tone or the rest of the game.”
“Once teams start to figure out who they are and their identity becomes a little clearer, then we got to learn how to win these close ones. I think this one probably could have gone either way, but we definitely made more mistakes than they did in crucial moments. They were probably a little tougher in some situations as well, some situations that I thought could have gone our way.”