In the Post BlackJacks vs Stingers

In the second of a two-game set against the CEBL western teams, the Ottawa BlackJacks finished with the same result as the first. Going into a buzzing Hive in Edmonton, the Stingers and their fans cruised to a 104-87 victory that wasn’t even as close as the scoreboard would indicate. Xavier Moon continued to leave no doubt that he is the best player in the league, and Edmonton improved to 3-0 on the year.

What was it that led to another disappointing loss for this BlackJacks squad? Let’s look back on the game that was.

Still Not Clicking

Ottawa was once again unable to force the other team to play their style of game, and fell to 1-4 because of it.

Things started off well enough, with the BlackJacks actually holding an 18-16 lead about halfway through the first quarter. Then the first media timeout was called, and the wheels completely fell off the wagon. The Stingers responded with a 19-0 run that carried into the second quarter, where they at one point had a 44-22 lead. Ottawa would come back to narrow the gap to 52-38 at halftime, and even brought the lead down to single digits before the score was 76-66 with the third quarter coming to an end.

The Stingers would then take over again, starting a 15-1 run that ballooned their lead to 94-73 before the start of the Elam ending. The home team would take their foot off the gas pedal which allowed the visitors to score 14 points in the window, but Moon would eventually hit the game winner to put the BlackJacks out of their misery.

The BlackJacks

I don’t know if team officials are reading my posts or there was some kind of divine intervention, but the BlackJacks finally started a big lineup!

U SPORTS products Alain Louis and Kadre Gray get the nod in the backcourt, while Tyrell Green and Dominque Archie were placed in the forward spots with Nick Ward at center. We saw what they were capable of early, slowing down the dreaded Stinger offense, while their impact down low opened up shots from the outside. When Ward, Archie and Green came out of the game is when the Stingers were able to make their run.

Kris Joseph and Ryan Wright, who had been excellent coming off the bench to lock down the perimeter and paint all season, both had awful nights. They duo combined for just 8 points, finishing with -18 and -20 ratings, respectively. Junior Cadougan also had a tough night, ending his night at -19, though he did contribute 10 points off the bench. The younger Stingers roster was able to take advantage of their speed against the veteran players and ran roughshod on them all night.

On the contrary, Ward was able to have his best game of the season, despite the loss. He played a team-high 32:40 and finished with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds. He also drew 9 fouls and was +3 on the night, the only BlackJacks to have a positive rating. Archie was also able to have a big game after struggling in his season debut, posting 13 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Having another big body to draw the attention of defenders undoubtedly helped both men have successful nights, so let’s hope to coaching staff continues to pair them together going forward.

Earl Calloway provided a spark off the bench, scoring 13 points, shooting 3-for-6 on the night. On the other side of the coin, Gray had his first bad game as a professional, only managing 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Johnny Berhanemeskel sat for his second straight game in favor of Kyle Johnson, who played less than 4 minutes. Since the team is on the road and I can’t be around them, it’s unclear if he suffered an injury or if this is a coaching decision.

The Opposition

The Edmonton Stingers starting five went off once again, and this time even got some help from their bench.

First and foremost, Moon did what he does best, scoring 25 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing out 9 assists. Somehow, a rather ho-hum night by his standards. He actually only had 5 points at halftime, but that didn’t matter as Adika Peter-McNeilly was able to find his game for the first time this season.

The Scarborough native came off the bench to score 21 points, hitting 7-of-14 three pointers. This comes after the entire Edmonton second-unit only managed to muster 26 points in their first two games combined. If this Stingers team is able to continuously get something – anything ­– from their rotation, they’ll have shored up their one weakness.  

The frontcourt of Jordan Baker and Brady Skeens had themselves a pair of impressive nights. Baker had 16 points on top of his 8 rebounds, and Skeens finally broke through with his first double-double in the CEBL, putting up 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting to pair with his 11 rebounds, and he also chipped in 4 assists. Marlon Johnson had a respectable 11 points while shooting 5-for-12, but after his performance in the first game, you know he’s capable of much, much more.

The Breakdown

As much as I hate to say it, this loss came entirely down to coaching. Look, I know this was their third game in five days and that once you include the travel time, there’s not a lot of time left to work on anything new. But it seemed like every time Edmonton coach Jermaine Small called a timeout, his team would immediately go on a run. Coach Dube-Brais never had an answer for whatever new look the Stingers would show, and his team never looked anything like their counterparts coming out of the huddle.

On top of that, it’s not like the plays that are killing the BlackJacks are these sophisticated, elaborate schemes that you have to rewatch tape to breakdown. Players like Moon and Peter-McNeilly are getting wide open shots off of basic screens because no one is defending off the switch. Would you hope that a team full of veteran players would be able to pick up on something so simple without having to be explicitly told to do so? Yes. But if there is any confusion on the court, that almost always falls at the feet of the coaching staff. They need to figure out why the system they’re implementing isn’t working, and find an answer to the defensive woes quickly. But it’s not only the defensive side that’s been a disappointment.

This BlackJacks offense has looked downright anemic at times. Even when they’re scoring baskets, it’s usually from players taking what’s made available as opposed to having anything drawn up. The end result is a lot of end of clock or heavily contested shots. Let’s use Monday’s game as an example. Edmonton attempted 82 shots, with 42 of those coming from deep. On the other side, Ottawa attempted just 59 shots, with 24 coming from three-point range. It doesn’t matter that Ottawa shot 50% for the game, because they’re just not shooting enough for it to make a difference. It’s basically impossible to win a game when your opponent is taking 23 more shots than you, with 18 of those coming from beyond the line.

Sure, the BlackJacks went to the charity stripe 31 times against the Stingers 13, but they’ve been such a bad free throw shooting team that the opposition isn’t afraid to foul them. They’re fine giving up 1.5 points per possession if it means they’re not even shooting threes against them.

Ottawa only has two players – Ward and Gray – who average double digits in scoring (excluding Berhanemesekl, who has only played one game). We’ve had the occasional bench player have a big night, but there hasn’t been anything consistent enough to put pressure on the other team. This also falls on the players, but the coaches have to do a better job putting them in a position to succeed. Guys like Tyrell Green, who can take a game over when he gets hot, can’t be having nights where they finish with 5 or fewer shots.

The BlackJacks don’t play again until Saturday, when they return home to host the league-leading Fraser Valley Bandits (yikes) for their second matchup of the season. It’s going to be a tough game, and one the BlackJacks most likely won’t win. But they need to show some kind of improvement over what we’ve seen so far this season, or missing out the on the playoffs could become a reality, and fast.

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