Undefeated no more!
The Edmonton Stingers came into Ottawa hoping for a repeat performance of their first meeting. Instead, they were met with 1,000 screaming fans and a team determined not to let them down.
The crowd – and some standout performances – proved to be enough, as they carried the BlackJacks to a 79-74 victory.
How were they able to pull off the upset? Find out below.
The BlackJacks got their fans into the game early and often. They worked the ball to Nick Ward, and he took care of business, aggressively attacking the basket. The team started out on a 10-2 run which caused Edmonton head coach Jermaine Small to do a wholesale lineup change before the first media timeout.
The lead grew to as much as 17-5, and the energy in the arena was electric.
“The crowd makes a huge difference,” Junior Cadougan said post-game. “You go from an empty stadium to a thousand people here, watching and supporting. They give us the energy, they lift us up. Like our GM Jevon Shepherd said, they’re that sixth man, it gives you extra juice.
“Everyone is shouting for us, screaming for us. That gives us extra energy.”
There was perhaps no player on the court who enjoyed having the fans in the arena more than Cadougan. The veteran point guard interacted with those in the seats throughout the game, constantly egging on their cheers. It led to him having easily his best game as a BlackJack, scoring a season-high 16 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. Seemingly all of his points came at times when the team was in desperate need of someone to step up, situations Cadougan says he lives for.
“It’s just the hard work I put in every day. Just stay the course, bring my veteran presence, bring my leadership. Me playing in clutch moments – I’ve played in a lot of clutch moments at high levels. Just bring that presence to the team.”
Ward was a problem for the Edmonton defense all game long, also scoring a season-high with 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting. His front court partner, Dominique Archie, also had an impressive game. He had a near tiple-double, scoring 8 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 9 assists.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day went to the team defence. After being lit up by the Stingers offense to the tune of 104 points in their first meeting, Ottawa held Edmonton to a season low 74 this time around.
“Our defence was way better,” head coach Charles Dube-Brais said. “We have up 104 in Edmonton. I think a part of that was also the shooting euphoria. They made 19 threes in that game, and a bunch of them were contested. We would have lost that game anyway but we defended a lot better tonight. We created misses and took away their comfort zone a lot more. I thought in Edmonton, they made a few really tough ones early on that they gained confidence on and they could build off that. I want to credit my guys for their defensive effort tonight. That was key for tonight.”
Stingers Get Stung
Coming off a drubbing of the second-best team in the league, the Stingers couldn’t carry that momentum into Ottawa.
The best starting unit in the CEBL was unable to find their groove early, which put them in an immediate deficit. The bench unit – as it has most of the season – struggled to get anything going themselves. As a whole, the team shot 27-for-74 (36.5%) from the floor, and only 9-of-32 (28.1%) from deep.
Xavier Moon, the reigning two-time league MVP, perhaps struggled the most of anyone, both offensively and defensively. He had only 5 points heading into the fourth quarter, as his foul trouble kept him on the bench for the majority of the game. He was able to find his groove, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter alone, but was eventually fouled out in Elam time.
“Our philosophy is you win or you learn,” Coach Jermaine Small said afterwards. “We have to tip our hats off to them. They were the hungrier team. We have to not be complacent, especially because we know at the end, we’re in the final four. We’re just trying to get better and take it one game at a time.
“Our routine is not going to change because we have one loss. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re just looking at every game as an opportunity to get better. Once again, we tip our hats off to them, and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing because it’s been working. Tonight, it didn’t work all the way.”
It wasn’t all bad for Edmonton. Marlon Johnson Jr. had 16 points and 8 rebounds, while Canadian Mathieu Kamba get his hot play going, scoring 18 points in the loss.
Ward has had his 2 best games of the season against Edmonton. Outside of Jordan Baker, they lack players with the size and strength to keep teams from scoring in the paint. Johnson is 6’10”, but at only 220-pounds, his game is more suited at the wing. Zac Overwater is still young and learning the game, and can’t be trusted out on the floor for long stretches against top quality big-men.
They’ve obviously had a great deal of success even without being able to secure the inside, but it’s a concern they should look to address, especially if they end up meeting Ottawa again in the playoffs.
Ultimately, it truly felt as though the home crowd was a deciding factor. It had been since March 2020 that fans were allowed to attend a lie sporting event, and you could feel that pent up energy finally being released inside the arena.
“It played a big impact,” Dube-Brais said of the crowd. “It had a big role in us winning that game tonight. I can’t say enough about that noise they were making in the second half. I got to give them credit too, because it’s the first time they’re able to come see us play and embrace, but at the same time discover what kind of a new product the CEBL and the Ottawa BlackJacks will be to this city and this community. Having them cheer on and really caring about us winning that first game in front of them, especially against the defending champions. It was great to see and to have that support. Hopefully we can build off that and win our next home games.”
The BlackJacks won’t have that support back until next Monday, as they play their next two games on the road. They’ll first head into Hamilton before visiting the River Lions in Niagara.
Maintaining this level of defensive play will be huge for Ottawa. They’re ranked in the top-3 of most offensive categories, but the defense has held them back, twice giving up over 100 points and allowing 99 in their first meeting with the Honey Badgers.
They rank only above the lowly Saskatchewan Rattlers in both blocks and steals. Hopefully, now having both Ward and Archie up front will allow them to improve in those areas. But the main thing for the team will be to continue to control the pace of play, and not allow the opposition to run the floor on them.
They managed to do that at home against Edmonton. Now let’s see if they can keep it up on the road against a couple of tough teams in Hamilton and Niagara.
This N’ That
I’ll admit it: I was skeptical about what kind of crowd would show up. In my defense, everyone who I’ve told that I’m covering the BlackJacks has pretty much responded with, “I think they’re called the Redblacks.” Boy, was I wrong.
The crowd was full and lively. They were fully invested in ever play, and the game had a playoff atmosphere. It was apparent that not everyone in the building was necessarily a BlackJacks/basketball fan coming into the game, but it sure felt like everyone was when they left the arena.
On a side note, the BlackJacks busted out their alternate jerseys for the first time this season. All the third jerseys are uniform throughout the league, with the team’s primary color on the top half and white on the bottom. I must say, having ours being red & white makes them especially fitting in the Capital. However, it was weird to see them broken out for this game. You had 1,000 people come in, lots of them buying new merch, and then you take to the floor… wearing different merch. It just seemed odd to me.
Also, the team didn’t do a good job of setting up the Elam ending. Again, most in the crowd weren’t necessarily CEBL fans, so when the PA announcer said that they were shutting off the clock, most were confused. A quick video and graphic explained what was happening, but that should have been done prior to tip-off. Once fans understood, they bought in. But there were a couple of awkward moments leading up to it.