Against all odds, the BlackJacks are here.
Despite finishing the season 4-10 and being heavily shorthanded, Ottawa pulled off a massive upset in Hamilton to punch their ticket to Edmonton for the playoff bubble. Their prize for completing such a feat? A date with the number-one seeded hometown Stingers.
Another upset seems unlikely, but lest we forget that the BlackJacks are responsible for the 1 in Edmonton’s 13-1 regular season record. Though it was with a much different squad, this coaching staff has mapped out a way to beat the Stingers before and are sure to be confident they can do so again.
How do the BlackJacks get it done? Who will be suiting up for the team? I’ll do my best to get your answers.
The big question heading into was who we would see suiting up for the BlackJacks. After a COVID outbreak connected to their last regular season game saw them enter the playoffs with just 4 rotation regulars, it was unclear if any players would be able to rejoin the team or if we would see any more signings.
I tip my cap to the BlackJacks social media team, who, obviously wanting to keep their cards close to their chest, made sure that every photo and video released featured only Kadre Gray, Junior Cadougan, Earl Calloway and Antonio Williams; the 4 players we knew we would see. Every one of those players obviously got the memo, and likewise made sure not to spill the beans about the lineup.
But then, late Thursday night, we got our answer.
The BlackJacks will have their full roster available to them for their semi-final showdown – save for Ryan Wright, who is recovering from an injury.
Needless to say, this should result in a huge sigh of relief from Ottawa fans. As incredible as the performance by the ragtag Bad News BlackJacks (™) was, lightning was unlikely to strike twice and they’ll need all the help they can get against the league-best Stingers.
Slow Like Honey
The BlackJacks were able to hand the Stingers their lone defeat by forcing them to play their style of game. Ottawa made the game a slow, physical, grinding, low-scoring game played in the half court. Though it may not be the prettiest thing to watch, it’s the style of game that the BlackJacks excels in more than any other team in this league.
A large part of that had to do with controlling the paint on either end. Nick Ward had perhaps his best game of the year in the victory over Edmonton, scoring 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Ottawa was able to outscore Edmonton 36-24 in the paint, which was ultimately the deciding factor.
Ward wasn’t alone in exploiting the Stingers weakness, however, as he had Dominique Archie beside him to help draw some of the pressure. That won’t be the case come Friday, as Archie has since left the team to start his season in France. Mamadou Gueye has looked good in his few performances since joining the team, and will be relied on heavily come Friday. If he’s not a threat early, the Edmonton defense will be able to swarm on Ward and prevent him from having an impact inside, taking away a significant part of the BlackJacks offense.
Of course, for what they’ve lost, Ottawa has also gained. Chad Posthumus was an absolute best for the team against Hamilton. He posted the first 20-20 performance in league history and shot 90% from the floor. Adding him to the roster means the BlackJacks can cycle their centers and play the hot hand, knowing that either can score at will. As well as Wright played for the team, that wasn’t something available to them before.
Getting Their Sting Back
Edmonton, as good as their offense is, actually relies on their defense first and foremost. They score a lot of their points by forcing turnovers or bad shots that lead to long rebounds and then killing the opposition on the break. In the last meeting between the teams, Ottawa was able to prevent either of those things from happening, which limited what Edmonton was able to do on the scoreboard.
On top of struggling to score on the inside, the lack of transition opportunities meant the Stingers were unable to find good looks from deep. After nailing 19 three-pointers in the first meeting, they were held to just 9 the second time out. They’ll need to either create more chances off of fast breaks or draw up better plays in the half court if they hope to keep their perfect home record in tact.
Of those options, improving their transition game seems more likely. The BlackJacks have been turnover prone all season long, and although they were able to limit that number before, it will more than likely return to the norm this time out. Jordan Baker and Brady Skeens create a lot of pressure on the inside that makes it hard for opposing teams to get the ball in the paint. On the perimeter, the team has a number of ball hawks in Xavier Moon, Mathieu Kamba and Adika Peter-Mcneily. Once they get the ball going downhill, they are almost impossible to stop, so the defense will have to look sharp and being ready to take advantage of mistakes.
Speaking of Moon, he will also need to have a better game than he did last time against Ottawa. He was very slow to start on the offensive side, only putting up 5 points through the first 3 quarters. On defense, he struggled against the BlackJacks size on the perimeter and found himself in trouble early. But we saw what he can do to this Ottawa team when he gets hot, scoring 12 points in the final frame before fouling out in Elam time. There’s a reason he’s the now 3-time CEBL MVP. He can single-handily take over games at any point, and it will be imperative that Ottawa keeps him contained.
Ottawa is going to have to win this game in the trenches. Even with getting players like Tyrell Green, Negus Webster-Chan and Gueye back in the lineup, they don’t have enough fire power on the outside to go shot for shot against this Stingers team.
As well, they can’t expect for it to be as easy in the paint on Friday as it was against Hamilton. The Honey Badgers are a team that lacked size up front. Outside of the University of Windsor product Thomas Kennedy, they didn’t have a true center in their lineup and that showed.
Edmonton will offer a whole other challenge, as Baker and Skeens can not only hold their own on the offensive side, but are considered defensive specialists. They tend to make life a nightmare for opposing bigs, both with their physicality and willingness to reach in for steals and blocks.
This matchup could very well come down to a coaching matchup. While BlackJacks head coach Charles Dube-Brais has had his shares of ups and downs this season, he earned his paycheck last game by putting on an absolute coaching clinic. He managed his timeouts wisely to continuously halt any Hamilton momentum, and had new looks for his players coming out of the breaks that constantly had the Honey Badgers looking confused.
On the other side of the ledger, Jermaine Small is coming off earning Coach of the Year honors for his tremendous season. The Stingers had a number of players return from previous years, and his familiarity with their games was apparent from day one. He was able to implement a system that uses everyone to the best of their ability, and carried it out through the entirety of the year.
We should be able to tell who will win this one early on in the game. Both teams have the ability to put up points in bunches and then protect a lead. Whoever lands the first proverbial punch will have the upper hand, and it’s hard to imagine the other team getting hot enough to make a full comeback.