After earning their second win of the season, it looked like everything lined up for the Ottawa BlackJacks to start their first winning streak of the season. They were playing the Nighthawks, a team they had already beaten this season. Guelph was without two key pieces of their rotation. The BlackJacks were even leading going into the Elam ending! And then…
Disaster. Heartbreak. The pain of being stabbed with a thousand knives all with the white-hot intensity of a thousand burning suns.
So, what happened? Honestly, I don’t even know if I can answer that this time. How do we move on? Probably can’t answer that either. But I’ll try my best, and at worst, will offer a shoulder to cry on.
Sometimes I think of clever titles for these categories I break the post into. Not today. I’m still too sad.
Alright, first things first, the lineup. Johnny Berhanemeskel again didn’t travel with the team. He’s still getting resituated back at home, plus he’s fresh off re-upping in the French league (all due congratulations). Coach Charles Dube-Brais said he’s treating him as a two-way player – like he had in Jordan Lloyd and Chris Boucher while coaching the Raptors 905 – so it’s unclear if he’s going to play any road games this season.
With him out of the lineup, Joel Friesen got the nod to play in his first game of the season. Having watched him in practice, I can tell you that Friesen is the best catch-and-shoot player on the roster – especially from deep. He had an okay game. In 10 minutes, he scored 3 points on 1-for-3 shooting from deep. He’s still got to show the coaching staff he’s capable of more if he wants consistent playing time.
Kris Joseph was also held out of the game. He was coming off two poor performances in a row, so it’s not a surprise to see the team send a message. He was replaced by Kyle Johnson, who didn’t play.
Nick Ward continued to show why he’s one of the best players in the league, posting 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. After struggling to get going early thanks to Chad Brown and some smart double teams by the Nighthawks. Ward got hot late as the team figured out how to get him the ball in better spots. He shot 5-for-7 on the night, and made an impressive 9-of-11 free throws. His presence in the paint also caused Chad Brown to get in foul trouble early, which opened the floor for the rest of the team.
Kadre Gray bounced back from a couple of rough games, scoring 16 points with 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Dominique Archie and Alain Louis both finished in the double-digits, scoring 10 and 11 points, respectively.
Junior Cadougan added 14 points off the bench, but he also finished with a -19 rating while the next worst on the team was -6. That’s not a good look, especially in what was such a close game. Tyrell Green also struggled, scoring just 2 points while hitting 1-of-6 shots.
Yeah, no. See? Just doesn’t feel right.
The Nighthawks picked up their first win, which most felt was long overdue. This roster was too good to be 0-4, but they had a tough schedule to start the season.
With Jackson and Mo Walker sitting out, former BlackJack and current Carleton Raven TJ Lall was given his first real playing time of the season, and lived up to the occasion. He had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. While those aren’t eye-popping numbers, he was consistent throughout the game, even when the rest of the team struggled.
Brown posted his second double-double in as many games, scoring 14 points to go with 10 rebounds. Kimball MacKenzie posted 11 points in the game, while Ahmed Hill scored 10. And then there was Cat Barber.
Barber entered the second half with just 4 points in the game, but finished with 24 as he found his groove late, especially in Elam time. The G-League star drove hard to the rim to daw and finish a number of three-point plays, including back-to-back possessions at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. His biggest play of the game came in Elam time, when Barber – a career blew-average three-point shooter – would take a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad triple with a defender right in his face… and nail it. He would later hit the game-ending free throw.
It was his first three-pointer of the night, finishing 1-for-6, as the Nighthawks continued to struggle from deep, hitting 8-of-27 as a team. They also struggled from the line, shooting 12-for-18, but made the shots when it mattered.
Look, what do you want me say?
This is a game the BlackJacks should have won. After starting off somewhat slow, they figured out their game in the second quarter and were able to control the pace of the contest. From that point on, they controlled the game, won every quarter, and limited what the Nighthawks offense was able to do.
Even in transition, where Guelph had a distinct advantage on paper, Ottawa looked the better team. Guelph actually did most of their damage in the paint, which, fair play to them, but showed that Ottawa was making them earn their points.
The BlackJacks led by as much as 10, and carried an 81-78 lead going into Elam time. They looked to be carrying much of the momentum coming out of the media timeout… then chaos erupted.
The Nighthawks went on an 11-2 run, highlighted by the Barber three-pointer. Ottawa would get a couple buckets in a row, but Louis was caught playing Barber too tightly, and he was able to blow by him and draw the foul that led to the game ending shot.
I don’t know what Ottawa is supposed to take away from this game. You can’t even say it was learning to play to the end, because they were in the game until Barber made a shot that doesn’t go in 99.9999999% of the time. Maybe the takeaway is just to play exactly like they did, and know that, statistically, the outcome is much more likely to end in their favour next time out.
The BlackJacks next game will see them host their first game in franchise history in front of a live crowd. They’ll be the first sports team in the province to allow fans back into the arena since March of 2020. Hopefully the fans will be able to give them that extra push to earn a win over the Edmonton Stingers, who are so far undefeated this season.