Fresh off of snapping a 3-game losing streak, the Ottawa BlackJacks will look to keep things rolling against the Guelph Nighthawks. Things went well enough the first time these teams met, as Ottawa picked up their first win of the season, 96-79. It’s unlikely to be as easy a victory this time around, though, with the Nighthawks having a brand-new toy and experience playing with each other.
Who is that new toy? And what should we expect? Let’s break it down.
Yet to Take Flight
The Nighthawks are so far winless on the season, but absolutely no one thinks that is indicative of the team they’ve put together. They may be 0-4, but 3 of those losses came in close games against the Hamilton Honey Badgers, who have a claim as the league’s best team right now.
The high-end talent on this team is on par with any other in the league. Cat Barber sits second in scoring with 24.8 points on 53.8% shooting from the field. Former NBA draft pick Justin Jackson posts 15.8 points to go with 6.5 rebounds. Ahmed Hill is averaging 15.3 points, while Isaiah Reese is scoring 13.7.
The problem for the team has been their ability to get anything out of their rotation. No one else on the team is even averaging 5 points, and they haven’t provided much on the defensive end either.
Another problem that used to plague the team was their lack of size inside. The key phrase in that sentence being used to, as they’ve since solved the problem with the addition of Chad Brown. The UCF product is a 6’9”, 245-pound Adonis who will cause problems for anyone he is matched up against. He’s spent a season with the Spurs G-League team, and just wrapped up his year playing in Greece and Germany. He made an immediate impact in his CEBL debut, posting 11 points to go with a league-best 18 rebounds this season.
Jacks Looking to go Back-to-Back
Hoping to ride their momentum into Guelph, the BlackJacks are looking for their first winning streak of the season.
Ottawa, with its full roster finally in tow, were able to showcase the depth of the team against Fraser Valley. New additions Johnny Berhanemeskel and Dominique Archie put up 24 and 16 points, respectively, while Nick Ward had another solid outing, scoring 17.
“We had our full lineup,” Head Coach Charles Dube-Brais said after the win. “Having a guy like Johnny Berhanemeskel who scored 24 tonight was obviously huge. He allowed us to get going early. I think he also gives us a little bit of overall confidence, by his presence on the court. He plays the right way, he makes the right pass, and he’s obviously a great shooter. Roster wise, to finally be able to have all the pieces, that’s one thing. But our guys also came in to practice this week and practiced with a lot of force and intensity… Our guys deserve credit for playing with the amount of force they did tonight.”
On top of coming together on the court, the team has also been able to build a bond off it as well. That kind of chemistry is hard to build up in a shortened season, but the BlackJacks placed an emphasis on character guys when building out their roster, and it’s starting to show.
“I think we’re getting better everyday,” Berhanemeskel said of the team since his arrival. “The guys have been really good since I’ve been here. Everyone has been really welcoming. I think we’re just going to keep building off of that. We’re always known for having really good guys on the team, and that’s an important pillar here. It goes to show when you play good basketball, those things relate, so I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Berhanemeskel said that the BlackJacks ability to come together and learn from their mistakes was key to Saturday’s win.
“I just think that we gave the first punch. We showed them we’re playing on home court, we’re not the team traveling, we’re going to defend our court and we’re going to show you we’re a better team than we were last week. That’s the most important thing about this league with the games so close to each other; It’s just about being better than the last game, and I think we’ve done that today.”
Delivering the first punch will go a long way to securing the W for the BlackJacks.
The Fraser Valley game was a perfect example of what this team is capable of when they’re firing on all cylinders. They used their physicality to dominate down low, which opened the perimeter up for their shooters. As well, Ottawa limited their turnovers, which in turn limited the Bandits transition offense. That meant they were forced to play in the half-court, where Ottawa had a distinct advantage.
Even when the Bandits made their shots – which a team full of good shooters like the Bandits are bound to do – the BlackJacks rallied together to prevent them from going on the huge runs they did in the first meeting. That just goes to show how quickly this team has come together.
The Nighthawks addition of Brown will also be a key factor in determining the winner of the game. If he is able to shut down Ward and Archie inside, Ottawa will most likely struggle to score. But if the BlackJacks are able to find something that works against the big man, or even just force him into foul trouble early. They’ll be able to work their game and get the win.
This is a big game for both teams as they look to clear themselves from the league basement. This could very well come down to a battle of wills and coaching decisions. Expect a close game with lots a nastiness happening in the paint. Whoever’s shooting gets hot first will probably walk away with the win.