After coming home from yet another winless road trip, the Ottawa BlackJacks will try to right the ship against the league worst Saskatchewan Rattlers.
Both teams have had a number of new pieces join their rosters in the past week, and are hoping those moves will lead to improved play down the stretch. The road losses dropped Ottawa to 3-7 on the year, while Saskatchewan sits at just 1-9.
Incredibly, the Rattlers aren’t out of playoff contention yet. This is the first and only time the teams meet this season, which means a win on Monday is paramount for both as they try to book their tickets to Edmonton for Championship Weekend.
Here’s how both teams match up, and what you can expect to see on Monday night.
Together At Last
A key factor to the Rattlers poor showing this season is the number of injuries they’ve had to endure. JaKeenan Gant missed a number of games – while playing injured in others – and Jelane Pryce was ruled out for the season in training camp, just to name a few.
Having Gant back and their new additions join the roster has given the Rattlers a second breathe in the final stretch of the season. They’re coming off their first win on the year, edging out an 86-83 victory over Guelph.
Devonte Bandoo and Kemy Osse both scored 15 points on identical 5-for-13 shooting nights. Team captain Travis Daniels added 13 of his own, but the night really belonged to Nervens Demosthene, who came off the bench to score a team-high 18 points and picked up 4 steals. He comes into the game against Ottawa as hot as anyone in the league, hitting over 80% of his shots in the last two games. But make no mistake, this offense still revolves around Bandoo and what he can do on the floor.
Playing his first professional basketball after a splitting his college career between JUCO and Baylor, Bandoo has been one of the best yet least talked about players in the league. He’s averaging 17.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals while appearing in all 10 games this season. He also has an impressive shooting line, hitting 43.6% from the field, 44.3% from deep, and 86.4% from the free throw line. The teams poor play has kept him out of headlines, but there are few in the league who can match his natural shooting ability. If the Rattlers can start putting a decent team around him, the playoffs may very well still be a possibility for them.
On the defensive end, Saskatchewan is very much a team that relies on doing things by committee. They don’t have a true, natural big man, which means they focus more on getting switches and making sure everyone boxes out properly. Daniels and Gant spend most of the time in the front court, and their combination of speed and size makes them a difficult matchup for most.
Pound The Paint
The most direct path to a BlackJacks victory lies directly in the paint. This is true for all of their games, but especially against the Rattlers.
Again, without Saskatchewan having a true big, it makes them the perfect opponent for Nick Ward and Dominique Archie to feast on. They showed in the game against Niagara what they’re capable of doing, coming to score 48 points and draw a ridiculous 19 fouls. And that was against a team with a good amount of size.
The BlackJacks were able to score the way they did against the River Lions thanks to the new style of play they’ve been implementing in the past few games. They’ve begun to trust their outside shooting more, to the point that they’re not forcing anything inside and stalling out the offense. A large part of that has because of the roster moves they made ahead of the transaction deadline – namely bringing in Negus Webster-Chan – and the expansion of players roles – largely, Tyrell Green.
“I think a lot of the moves we made were the right moves to do,” head coach Charles Dube-Brais said of the work GM Jevohn Shepherd has done in the past week. “Excited to see the new faces here. Those guys are definitely pieces that can improve the team.
“I do feel like when the transaction deadline hits, that’s an opportunity for your organization to add pieces for the rest of the season. And also, this is a league that has restricted free agency. So you’re also adding pieces to the list that you’re going to carry into restricted free agency next year.
“With those moves, I think we got a little longer, we got a little younger. Those are things we wanted to address, and I feel like we made some good moves to inch towards that.”
Green agreed with his coach’s assessment. He said that he’s confident the players the team has brought in will help the BlackJacks achieve their goals, even if coming in halfway through the season means they’re going to have to make adjustments.
“At this point in the season now, you kind of have to come in on the fly and learn the plays pretty quickly, just get up to speed on how we play,” Green said. “I think these guys will be fine. I know a couple of them. They’re good players, they wouldn’t be here if they’re not. I feel like they’re definitely capable of picking up and catching up to speed with us.”
Another key to the recent uptick in Ottawa’s play has been the improvement of Ryan Wright. He has been relied on to play the forward and center positions when Ward has gotten into foul trouble, and has a been a steadying force on the floor. The one flaw that appeared in his game was his inability to generate offense on his own. However, in recent games, he’s been much more aggressive getting to the rim, which has meant some of the burden has been lifted off of Ward’s shoulders. This comes after Wright and Dube-Brais had a long conversation where the coach told the big man what he wants to see out of him in the second half of the season.
“I had no doubt he could be efficient in that role in the CEBL,” coach said. “Especially with all the experience he has and the professionalism he brings to the team. For him, it’s a matter of finding the right balance and being aggressive when he’s out there… He’s not bothered by the ebbs and flows of a game or a season. I think he has that maturity that we need. While he brings all those intangibles, I think it’s important for him to stay aggressive and I think he’s done that in the last few games.”
As has been the case for most of the season, Dube-Brais says his team is taking a ‘win-or-learn’ mentality from the tough road trip.
“I think overall, we’ve played some pretty good basketball,” he said. “We just didn’t do quite enough to come up with wins in both these games. But I think in the larger process of being good and peaking in August, those are steps forward even if the overall result wasn’t there in the end.”
For the most part, the BlackJacks actually have a good job of learning their lessons from game to game. The problem has been, once they make a new adjustment, they seem to forget all about the lessons they learned prior which leads to the same mistakes happening again. The team is quickly running out of time to put it all together, but it is imperative they walk out of TD Arena with a win on Monday. Still, the bench boss is adamant that they key to victory will be to continue to play within themselves.
“For us, I think we’re showing every game that we’re doing some pretty good things on both sides of the ball. It needs to be more consistent. It needs to be more possessions out of the 80, 85, 90 possessions that every team has in a game. We just need to always inch closer to having 90 good possessions on offence and 90 good possessions on defense, even if not one team in the world does that.
…We’re doing some good stuff, but we need to cut down on a few turnovers here and there, a few offensive rebounds here and there, and that’s probably the difference between winning and losing.”