After suffering their first real painful, should-have-won loss, at the hands of the Guelph Nighthawks, the Ottawa BlackJacks will try to get the sour taste out of their mouth against the Edmonton Stingers. Things didn’t go so well for them last time they played, dropping a one-sided 104-87 beating.
The BlackJacks are hopeful that their fans will be able to buoy them to victory this time around. It will be the first time there is a live home crowd in franchise history, and the first pro sports team in Ontario to allow fans since March 2020.
Will the fans be enough to garner a victory? What can they expect to see on the court? All of this and more awaits you, my friends.
The BlackJacks are back home, and will look to have the support of their fans behind them. As amazing as it’s been being able to attend the games as a member of the media, there’s definitely been something missing playing in front of empty seats. Hopefully, they won’t have to endure the heartbreak that was last game.
After taking control of the game in the second quarter, the Ottawa led all the way to Elam time before Guelph went on an 11-2 run that propelled them to victory.
“It was our game to win, you know what I mean?” Kris Joseph said after practice on Thursday. “We were up for the majority of the game. The tricky thing about Elam is, when the game is pretty close and it becomes, ‘we got to score 9 and they got to score 11’, everything really, really matters in those possessions that you get.
“We had a few turnovers, a few shots that maybe were ill-advised. And you know, Cat Barber, his three-pointer to make it from 86 to 89, that was a really, really tough shot. It was greatly defended, and he made a tough shot. Great players make great plays, and that was one of them. It was something to look at, you take it as a learning experience. We feel like we should have won that game.”
The BlackJacks finished the first half of the season 2-5, which is neither the record they were hoping for nor indicative of their roster. The team went through some serious growing pains, especially on the road, and were unable to come up big when it mattered most. Still, the coaching staff feels that with their full team now in tow, they can make some serious noise in the second half of the year.
“With our full roster, we’re 1-0,” head coach Charles Dube-Brais said. “We’ve only played one game with Johnny Berhanemeskel and Dominque Archie who are definitely two of our best players.
“So now that we’re at the halfway point, do we wish that we would have a couple more wins? Sure. That could have happened. We could have beat Hamilton over here, we could have beat Guelph when we played at their place. But at the end of the day, it didn’t happen. So now we got seven more games and we’re just focusing on the future and trying to get more wins in the second half of the season.”
The core of Nick Ward, Kadre Gray, Johnny Berhanemeskel and Archie Dominique is a strong one to build around. We’ve seen the other players on the team step up and fill their roles admirably, but it’s going to need to happen much more frequently going forward.
Xavier Freakin’ Moon
This guy, man. I somewhat joked about how good he was last time these teams played, and what’s he done since then? Set league records in points in a quarter (21), points in a game (38), and steals in a game (8). He also had 34 points in the Stingers most recent game, where they destroyed the Hamilton Honey Badgers, 99-63. The win bumped their perfect record up to 7-0. Worth noting, at 6-2, Hamilton is second in the league, and 6-0 against teams not from the City of Champions.
“They’ve lost one game in two years if we count last summer,” Dube-Brais said. “They’re obviously a very well-oiled machine. Obviously, Xavier Moon and Jordan Baker are at the heart of it. (They have) a lot of good Canadian players around them, like Mathieu Kamba and Adika (Peter-McNeilly) have been playing really good for them.
“We know what their strengths are. We’re going to try to stop them better than we did in game one. I thought our offense was decent when we played at their place, now our defense has to be better and we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”
As coach said, the Stingers are able to hurt you in a number of ways. They have the best starting lineup in the league, and Peter-McNeilly has really turned it on lately to give them scoring off of the bench. It’s pretty much up to the BlackJacks to pick their poison, and they’re going to have to control the pace of the game if they want to get the W.
While playing against the league’s best team and a two-time MVP might get some players excited, the BlackJacks are taking it as just another game against any other opponent.
“For me, I get up for every game,” Joseph said. “No matter who we’re playing, no matter where I’m playing; YMCA, pick-up basketball, I like playing the game. Obviously, I think we’re fired up just for the simple fact that they got us over there in Edmonton. It’s always a good feeling to be able to get the rematch and win on our home court.”
“I think I wake up for every game the same,” Alain Louis said in agreeance with his teammate. “I’m very competitive, so I really want to win against everybody else. (Moon) being a great player doesn’t make me more excited.”
While it’s obvious the Stingers will come into this game flying high on with an undefeated record, it would be natural to think the BlackJacks would come in crushed after a heartbreaking defeat. However, Joseph says that is far from the case, and that the team’s ability to stay positive and together will be one of their strengths in the second half of the season.
“Coach says something, and it’s something I’ve been saying since I’ve been a professional,” Joseph said. “For one, no one likes losing, we know that. But we get paid to play basketball. It’s lovely, it’s a kid’s game. So to keep the morale up, here in practice, we got the music going, we compete at a high level everyday, and that’s enough. That’s enough for us as professionals to keep the morale. To get out here and compete after a loss, it kind of boosts us and gets us ready for the game.
“Morale is something that we’re not lacking. Everybody is high spirited, everybody stays positive whether we win or we lose; especially when we lose, because that’s important. It starts from the head. Coach stays really, really positive and it trickles down. From the top to the last guy on the bench, everyone is positive. We come in here ready to work, and that’s something that’s going to help us in the long run. “
Coach Dube-Brais agreed with his player, and said that his team has done the work to move onf rom their last loss and get ready for Edmonton.
“At the end of the day, it’s basketball,” he said. “You take your day off, you come back to the court, you work, you identify mistakes you made. You got the film to identify all the mistakes. The players see themselves, they correct it. You get on court, you adjust some stuff and you work harder. It’s also not even been a month since we got here. There’s obviously certain things that you do at a certain and you just need to do it and keep doing it better. For us, that’s what it is. Keep getting what we do better, and making those small adjustments that we need to make to strategically be better than what we were in the last few games.”
The key to the BlackJacks victory Saturday afternoon will be limiting the Stingers from the outside. In their last game against Ottawa, Edmonton was able to hit 19 three-pointers after hitting only 11 total in their two games prior. That kind of shooting allowed the Stingers to get off to a big lead early, which forced the BlackJacks to abandon their inside game – their strength – and rely on their outside shooting – a weakness.
The team believes they have evolved since the last meeting, and hope to show that on the floor. Joseph said that very game, whether it was a win or a loss, has been taken as a lesson for the team. They feel that what they’ve learned through the first half of the season has only set them up for great things down the stretch.
“We’re progressing,” Joseph added. “From our first game to now, maybe our record doesn’t necessarily reflect our improvement, but we feel like we’re getting better everyday in practice. We feel like we’re learning from our mistakes in games, we’re learning and growing as a team. The best thing about it is we’re doing it together as a collective. We’re taking accountability for our losses, and we’re learning from them, as well as our wins. We got to learn from everything everyday, and that’s something we’ve been doing extremely well. If we continue this pattern, we’re going to be hitting our peak at the exact right time, which is in the playoffs.”