In the Post BlackJacks vs Honey Badgers

Another road game, another loss for the Ottawa BlackJacks. Despite coming in with all the momentum in the world after handing Edmonton their first loss of the season, they couldn’t close out in Hamilton. The game was a tightly contested, back-and-forth one, right up until the fourth quarter.

The BlackJacks couldn’t buy a bucket in the final frame, and they paid for it dearly to the tune of an 87-75 defeat.

Lindell Wigginton reminded everyone why he’s in the MVP conversation, and the Honey Badgers were able to snap a two-game skid and get back to their winning ways.

Let’s take a look at what went wrong and what Ottawa needs to do better against Niagara.

Definition of Insanity?

Probably my least favourite quote of all time is, ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results’. Einstein never said it. It has no bearing on reality. And yet it’s oddly applicable to this game.

At this point in the season, we know what the BlackJacks offense wants to do; get the ball to Nick Ward, let him work inside, then take advantage when the defense collapses inside. The problem is, it can become predictable and defenses can expect it, which leads to them hawking the ball when you try to pass it inside. That’s exactly what the Honey Badgers did, and fair play to them for it. The issue was Ottawa just. Kept. Doing it.

It’s not even as if the team wasn’t having success otherwise. Despite being forced to play Hamilton’s game, the BlackJacks were able to find a couple of hot hands in Tyrell Green and Earl Calloway to enter the fourth trailing only by one after the lead ping-ponged all game. Yet they constantly drove into the paint – which would then get congested with bodies – and try to force a pass down low which would either get knocked away or, usually, picked off and taken down the court.

Ward had easily his worst game of the season, which previously belonged to… his last game against Hamilton. He had just 8 points and 7 rebounds and was a -16 on the night. Kudos to Thomas Kennedy, Kenny Ejim and Coach Ryan Schmidt for finding a gameplan to shut down Ward and keep the ball out of his hands. They were able to frustrate Ward to the point that he took a technical foul at the worst possible time (if there were such a thing as BlackJacks bingo, Ward getting a tech would be the free space in the middle).

As the game entered Elam time, the Honey Badgers had already taken firm control and their victory seemed inevitable. All because the BlackJacks refused to adapt.

Forget About Me?

Lindell Wigginton had struggled mightily in his last two games. And make no mistake, there was a direct correlation between his poor play and the Honey Badger’s losses. But playing in front of a home crowd for the first time this year – not to mention Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was in attendance – the Nova Scotia native went off like we had seen earlier in the season and carried his team to victory.

He finished with 32 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. It was the second most he’s scored this season behind the 33 he put up against, you guessed it, the BlackJacks in their first meeting. This Hamilton team likes playing Ottawa, is what I’m getting at. He was also incredibly efficient, shooting 10-of-15 from the field and 8-for-10 from the charity stripe.

Wigginton was helped out by J.V. Mukama, who had 16 points with 9 rebounds and 4 assists of his own. The team captain has been off-and-on all season, but performances like this will be key for the Honey Badgers’ success come playoff time.

Hamilton has relied on their offense to carry them for most of the season. After that aspect of their game struggled to get going in their past two, they obviously put an emphasis on defense coming into this game and it showed. Even when their shooting woes reappeared against Ottawa, they were able to prevent the BlackJacks from getting on any major run that they couldn’t overcome.

It was a hard-fought victory, and one their fans should be happy to have witnessed.

The Breakdown

This was a weird game throughout. Like I said, Ottawa was unable to get their game going, but Hamilton wasn’t able to take advantage. The end result was a game where both teams had long dry spells and essentially traded scoring runs for the first 3 quarters. Both teams essentially only had two players really find their groove, but Hamilton was able to find consistency late and that ultimate proved to be enough.

Well, that combined with some poor decisions on the BlackJacks part. With that, let’s talk about Nick Ward for a minute, shall we?

When you look at Ward’s stats in college and at the pro level, you think to yourself, ‘how is this guy not a star at the highest levels?’ Afterall, this is the same guy who took minutes away from players like Jaren Jackson Jr, Miles Bridges, and Xavier Tillman while at Michigan State. He’s second in points scored by a first-year player in school history, behind only some guy named Magic Johnson. He’s starred in the G-League and overseas. And then you watch him play, and it starts to make sense.

For every bit as physically dominant he is, as great as his footwork might be, you see a guy who seems to be determined to get in his own way.

In Wednesday’s game, Ward received another technical foul for arguing a call with a ref. Whatever foul he was looking for was by no means egregious, and whatever he was hoping would happen clearly wasn’t going to. More importantly, the BlackJacks were trailing with Elam time approaching, and Ward’s selfish argument gave Hamilton another point plus possession. On top of that, it put the Honey Badgers in the bonus situation, which would prove costly.

We’ve already seen Ward get technical fouls for arguing calls this season. We’ve also seen coach Charles Dube-Brais get one for arguing a call on Ward’s behalf, and who could forget, we’ve seen him get a technical for kicking a chair.

At this point, I think the key to BlackJacks success this season will be in getting Ward a good sports psychologist. He must have some sort of subconscious need to self-sabotage that has to be addressed. It’s the only logical reason I can think of as to why someone with the level of experience he has would continue to make such horrific basketball decisions.

Gah. Another loss means the BlackJacks failed to gain any ground on the two teams behind them in the standings. There were some things to build off of, however.

We saw that Ottawa can still generate offense even when plan A isn’t working. It’s really the first time we’ve seen that all season. Even more impressive, they did it without Johnny Berhanemeskel or Kadre Gray, who was presumably held out while he finished off the details in his new contract in the Spanish league (congrats, young man).

We also saw Green take over a game for the first time. He’s struggled for most of the season, but this was the kind of game most knew he was capable of. Did he take some bad heat check shots in the middle quarters? Yes, but I would rather see him continue to trust himself than end the game with fewer than double-digits in shot attempts.

Next up for the BlackJacks is the Niagara River Lions. They met in the first game of the CEBL, and Niagara absolutely had their way with Ottawa. Don’t think the BlackJacks have forgotten that.

On paper, they match up well; definitely much better than we saw in the last game. It will be another big game, as Ottawa tries to get their first road win of the season before coming home to welcome the league-worst Saskatchewan Rattlers.

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