In the Post BlackJacks River Lions

What a game. For the second straight contest, the Ottawa BlackJacks found themselves locked in a tight, back-and-forth battle on the court. They were able to give a better effort in the fourth quarter than they did against Hamilton, and it came down to a ‘Next Basket Wins’ scenario. Unfortunately, the Niagara River Lions were able to get the last laugh, and treated their fans to a 94-92 victory.

Let’s take a look back on a wild one, and what ultimately cost the BlackJacks in the end.

Turnovers Are For Bakeries

I can try to break down game tape and point to one specific play that cost the BlackJacks the game, but at the end of the day, it was ultimately turnovers that did them in.

Ottawa came out shooting hot. They weren’t able to get their inside game going early – which has obviously been an anchor for the offense – but the BlackJacks, particularly Tyrell Green, still managed to make their shots from deep. Even when they couldn’t get the ball in the paint, Nick Ward and Dominque Archie were still able to draw fouls to get to the line.

It was the second straight hot shooting game for Green. He said his improved play is largely due to him finally finding his role and feeling more at home with the team.

“I feel like I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable within the offense and all that,” Green said after practice on Sunday. “Obviously, I’m shooting the ball a little better these past two games. I’m just trying to keep that up and just keep doing my part; rebounding, playing defense, making shots, just making the right plays.”

And then the BlackJacks started to force passes into the key, and things fell apart.

The River Lions came into the game leading the league in steals by a substantial margin. Three of the league’s top five in the category – Daniel Mullings, Guillaume Payen-Boucard and Xavier Sneed – represent the white, blue and green. But that didn’t stop Ottawa from making ill-advised passes and allowing Niagara to play their exact style of game.

By the time we hit the halfway point, Ottawa was shooting a ridiculous 61%, but still trailed 49-44 thanks to 13 turnovers.

Road Woes Continue

This most recent loss dropped the BlackJacks to a disheartening 0-5 on the road this season. While their first road trip on the year saw them fly across the country with little time in between games, the team felt they had a real chance at winning in Southern Ontario.  In the end, it was the teams inability to execute in the finer details that cost them both victories.

“Obviously a little disappointed we didn’t at least split those two games,” head coach Charles Dube-Brais said. “To come up with both losses is a little disappointing, I think we probably should have won at least one of these two. But we were also shorthanded with Kadre Gray being hurt – he’s one of our top scorers – and I think that showed especially in the Hamilton game. But it is what it is.

“I think it shows overall that we’re inching close but not quite there yet. It’s not because you beat Edmonton that you’re suddenly the best team in the league, and you’re not the worst team in the league because you’re losing games either. “

Even without Gray in the lineup, the BlackJacks had a number of players step up. The aforementioned Green had 18 points, shooting 6-for-11 from downtown. Dominique Archie scored 20 while grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists, while Ward showed his dominance once again, posting 28 points, 8 rebounds, and drawing a whopping 13 (!) fouls.

Newcomer Negus Webster-Chan kept his hot-hand since joining the team, scoring 12 points off the bench.

“It’s been great getting a feel for guys on the court.,” Webster-Chan said. “I can’t ask for anything more than this. I love the game of basketball and competing at a high level with these guys.

“This is the game of basketball; this is the business. You might not be on the same team the whole year, and you have to be able to adjust on the fly. I feel like I do a good job of that.”

With injuries and a number of roster moves being made ahead of the transaction deadline, members of the team are going to have to adjust to playing new roles. For Green, he said his ability to step up these past couple of games has been due to the preparation he’s put in.

“It’s all about staying ready,” he said. “I feel like even when I was in and out of the lineup, I was just making sure that mentally I was staying ready. In this league, every game is different, every game is new. You always have to mentally prepare like you’re going to be playing a lot. I think that’s what helped me. The adjustment is not that hard. You just have to stay even keeled with it.”

Hungry Lions

The River Lions were able to execute their game plan pretty much to a tee, which is what ultimately led them to victory.

Niagara’s speed and propensity for ball hawking make them a tough out for anyone. That, combined with a number of threats on the offensive side, have helped them win three in a row after starting the season 3-3.

Former Duke co-captain Javin Delaurier led the way with 17 points and 14 rebounds, including 9 on the offensive end. He also chipped in with 3 steals and 4 blocks to put up one of the most well-rounded games of the CEBL season.

Sneed scored a team-high 18 points, while Payen-Boucard had 12, including the game clincher. Former Ottawa BlackJack Phil Scrubb, playing in his second game with Niagara, also put up 12 points while providing a game-high 8 assists.

Though they weren’t able to get their 3-point game going thanks to Ottawa’s improved perimeter defense (they hit just 6-of-26 shots from deep), they were able to regularly cut to the basket and out hustle the BlackJacks to offensive rebounds. As assertive as Ward is on the offensive side, he can be caught flat footed on defense, and that’s exactly what the River Lions were able to do.

The had a number of players off the ball cut to the basket, only to be handed an assist from Scrubb on a silver platter. Ward and Archie weren’t able to keep up inside and Niagara was able to do most of their damage in the paint.

Breakdown

This was a game that could have gone either way. Niagara looked like they were pulling away early in the third quarter, but Green and Ward were able to bring their team back into the game heading into the fourth.

After a see-sawing quarter, it came down to a last shot scenario. Players on both teams looked unsure of how to best handle the Elam ending situation, which resulted in poor decisions threes being thrown up on both ends. Eventually, the River Lions figured out that they were best served cutting inside, and Scrubb was able to find Boucard in the lane for the finish.

Even though they took yet another loss, there were again signs of improvement for the BlackJacks. They’ve pretty much figured out how to get an inside-outside game working, something that eluded them in the first half of the season. They only even seemed to get one or the other going. Now having a more complete attack, teams will have a harder time defending them, which will also lead to fewer fast breaks going the other way.

Ottawa will host the lowly Saskatchewan Rattlers on Monday night. With as little hyperbole as possible in a regular season game, this one is must win. Though the Rattlers are no longer winless, losing to them on home court will be devasting for this BlackJacks team. As well, a win here would clear them completely of last place and allow them to focus on their playoff run.

Saskatchewan doesn’t have much to offer on the inside, so this is very much Ottawa’s game to lose. If they come out with the same effort we saw on the road trip, a win seems inevitable. But if they play down to the level of their opposition, heads may roll.

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