Fresh off of officially introducing their hometown to CEBL basketball for the first time, the Ottawa BlackJacks stroll into Hamilton for their first of back-to-back road games.
The BlackJacks should be flying high after handing the Edmonton Stingers their first loss on the year. The defense looked stout and – to paraphrase Juan Soto – Nick Ward did Nick Ward things. Ottawa appears to be playing their best basketball of the season. They’ve won two of three and are hitting their stride when it matters most.
The opposite could be said for the Honey Badgers. After winning six straight games, they’ve now lost two in a row, failing to score 70 points in either contest. Lindell Wigginton has struggled lately, and that doesn’t bode well for a team with championship aspirations.
Who will come out on top in this pivotal game? And who are those new faces on the benches? Keep reading to find out.
The New Guys
The CEBL transaction deadline is drawing near, so a number of teams were busy making moves. The BlackJacks were no exception, bringing former CEBL champion Negus Webster-Chan on board.
Webster-Chan started this year on the Saskatchewan Rattlers roster, but was let go when he – and the entire team – struggled out of the gate. It was a surprise to many, as NWC had been a member of the Rattlers since their inaugural season, and had been a dependable scorer and fan favorite.
The 6’7” former 905 Raptor is a prototypical 3-and-D man. He fancies himself a guard, but you can expect to see him play at the wing position in Ottawa, where Tyrell Green and Kris Joseph have struggled. From what’s been posted on social media, the split between he and Saskatchewan was far from amicable, so expect him to be looking to make a point.
In order to make room for NWC, Ottawa released Kyle Johnson. With the emergence of Kadre Gray and Alain Louis, Johnson found himself the odd man out in the lineup. BlackJacks fans won’t have to wait long to see him, however, as he was quickly scooped up by the Honey Badgers.
Hamilton is in desperate need of help from anybody outside of their guards. Wigginton and Trevon Duval have carried the team so far, but the Honey Badgers will need more than three-point shooting if they hope to make a serious championship run. Johnson is a good slasher and rebounder at the guard and wing positions, which should help the team going forward.
Kyle isn’t the only new Johnson on the team, as Hamilton has also recently debuted Nino Johnson in their ranks. The former G-Leaguer adds size to a small lineup, which should help a team that relies almost solely on U SPORTS product Thomas Kennedy to defend the paint. Nino has struggled in his first 2 games, but that’s to be expected of a player coming straight out of quarantine.
As far as the most recent moves go, it really looks like a situation where everyone involved wins. Both teams got better and both players find themselves in better positions.
After Ottawa was the first team in Ontario to welcome fans back for the first time since March 2020, now it will be Hamilton’s turn to enjoy a home crowd.
The teams previously met in their respective third games of the season in Ottawa. It was a close, back-and-forth game that saw lots of physical play in the paint and both teams in foul trouble. Hamilton was able to persevere, however, and walked out with a 99-92 victory.
Wigginton had his best game of the season, scoring 33 points and shooting 7-of-11 from deep. The BlackJacks have gotten much better at closing out on the perimeter since then, and that will be key for tonight’s game.
We saw in their last game how Ottawa was able to shut down Xavier Moon. They did so by opting not to chase for offensive rebounds, but instead making sure that everyone got back to prevent the Honey Badgers from getting a fast break. While that will often lead to lower scoring games, it’s the kind of pace the BlackJacks were made to play at.
Another key for the BlackJacks will be to get Ward going early again. He had one of his worst games of the season last time he saw Hamilton, largely because Kennedy and Co were able to frustrate him whenever he touched the ball. The addition of Dominque Archie should help him out this time around, as it gives the Hamilton interior defense something else to worry about. Whether that creates better looks for Ward or open shots from the outside, it will have to be something the BlackJacks take advantage of.
As simple and stupid as it sounds to say, the Honey Badgers need to do the opposite. Ideally, they want to force Ottawa to make bad passes inside and then capitalize off turnovers. Good looks often come and transition, and Hamilton has plenty of good shooters in Wigginton, Duval, Cody John and Keevan Veinot to make Ottawa pay if they’re given any space. If they are able to run the floor, their fans will have plenty to cheer about.
The new faces on both benches makes this game both hard to predict and interesting to watch. Will the Honey Badgers continue to struggle shooting the ball, or will Wigginton find his MVP form again? Will Ottawa be able to keep their recent hot play going, or will the defense revert to their early season form?
I think this mid-season play is when we really find out what teams are made of. The BlackJacks struggled early, but were able to learn from their losses and correct their mistakes (having their full roster join them also helped). The Honey Badgers are going through adversity for the first time this season, and don’t seem to have any answers other than hoping their stars can shoot them out of it.
I like Ottawa in this game. It’s a big one for them, as they continue to try to separate themselves from the bottom of the standings. However, if they let Hamilton run on them, the coaching staff will have a lot of questions to answer during the second half of the season.