So, this is what it feels like to be on the other side of these games.
The Ottawa BlackJacks and the Saskatchewan Rattlers went toe-to-toe for the first three quarters. Usually, it’s been the BlackJacks that fail to close out late in the game. This time, however, it was the Rattlers, as Ottawa pulled away in the fourth quarter and cruised to an 82-69 victory. And in case just getting the win wasn’t enough, it also clinched the BlackJacks a spot in the playoffs.
Here’s how they were able to pull out the win and what it means for them moving forward.
Calling Their Numbers
Before the BlackJacks were able to stage their comeback, the story of the game was the absence of Nick Ward. The star big man injured himself in warm-up prior to the game, and the coaching staff opted to hold him out as a precaution.
Losing a player so vital to the team – without any time to prepare another gameplan – could have proven disastrous. However, Ryan Wright and Dominique Archie were able to step up in a big way and put the team on their backs.
The veterans had their way with a smaller Saskatchewan team in the pain. Archie posted a 19 point, 10 rebound double-double, while Wright had 12 points with 6 rebounds and ended the night with a ridiculous plus-31 rating.
“It’s obviously hard because he’s going to give you 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds), especially against a team that doesn’t have a true center,” head coach Charles Dube-Brais said about losing Ward. “I want to commend Ryan Wright for coming in, we were plus-31 with him on the court tonight. He did a hell of a job. Dominique Archie took some reps at the 5 too and held the fort down for us.”
Wright recently had a meeting with the head coach where they discussed what his role on the team would be. Since then, he’s played a much more aggressive game and that allowed him to seamlessly step into Ward’s role on Monday.
“Coach just basically told me that my job on the team is to kind of be that veteran presence,” Wright said after the game. “That guy that whenever things are not going so well and my number is called, be ready to go and just lead by example. He just said basically just keep doing what you’re doing, keep a positive attitude, keep going hard and keep leading by example whenever you’re out there. So that’s what I try to do.
Just do what’s called to me, keep going hard, keep being that veteran presence and I think everything is going to work out for itself if I keep approaching things that way.”
It was another tough loss in what’s been an incredibly tough season for the Saskatchewan Rattlers.
Looking to build off of their first win of the season, the Rattlers were able to enter the fourth quarter against the BlackJacks with the lead. They maintained a good shooting percentage and limited the number of turnovers they had. It looked like they were doing enough to earn the victory, but the wheels completely fell off in the final frame.
The team shot just 3-of-16 to end the game, and had 5 turnovers in the final 10 minutes alone. Head coach Connor Dow said it was his team’s selfishness that led to their downfall.
Hero ball is what did us in,” he said. “It’s been sort of the whole year. When we were moving the ball the first three quarters, our drive-kick game was terrific. But once we stopped sharing the ball, things went south for us fast.”
It ended up being another wasted game from Devonte Bandoo, who has quietly been one of the top players in the league. He scored 17 points, as did team captain Travis Daniels. New addition Demarcus Holland also had an impressive showing in the loss, putting up 15 points along with 5 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 steals.
How the Turns Have Tabled
Coming off a road trip where they twice let games get away from them late, the BlackJacks were determined not to let that happen in front of their home crowd.
The team got off to a slow start, missing open shots and doing a poor job on defense that allowed to Rattlers to start off on an 11-0 run. In what would be a recurring theme throughout the game, Dube-Brais called a timeout and regathered his troops. The defense looked much improved coming out of the huddle, and he offense – led by Archie – was able to slowly claw themselves back into the game. An eventual 10-2 run by the BlackJacks would cut the lead to 23-17 by the break.
The Ottawa defense looked porous again to start the second, but again, a timeout call would lead to improved play, this time with Kadre Gray taking the reigns, scoring 7 straight points.
Every time the Rattlers would get hot, the BlackJacks would slow things down and find a new player to take over the game. It was a master class in coaching from the Ottawa class, always finding the right counter punch to land before figuring out the Saskatchewan game late and pulling away.
Gray finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds after missing the previous two games due to injury. Alain Louis, who got hot towards the end of the game, had his best game of the year, scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
While it might not look like so on paper, this was probably the most impressive game of the BlackJacks season. It’s one that could have gotten away from them, and mostly likely would have earlier in the season. But the Ottawa coaching staff has been preaching learning from their losses all year, and it showed Monday night.
It also showed that the team is able to adapt to whatever challenges face them. It would have been easy for them to get down on themselves when they started off trailing by 11 in the first two minutes into the game, especially when they knew they didn’t have their star player in the lineup to help bring them back in. But the team rallied behind their depth and their coach to pull out the win.
Ward’s injury doesn’t sound like it’s anything serious, and with 9 days in between games, it’s unlikely he’ll miss any more time.
Next up for the BlackJacks is a home-and-home against the Guelph Nighthawks. Though Ottawa always has their ticket to the playoffs stamped, it will be a big series as they look to solidify themselves in the 5 seed. That will be important, given that there’ll likely be a noticeable gap between the 3 and 4 seed.
It won’t be easy as the Nighthawks are in desperate need of wins to prevent themselves from being relegated from the playoffs. The games played between the teams have been incredibly exciting so far, so regardless of the outcomes, fans should be in for a treat.