The first game of the season for the Ottawa BlackJacks led to their first disappointment, as they took a 90-87 loss to the Fraser Valley Bandits in a game they were controlling for the majority of the time.
The loss ended up wasting a heroic effort from Deng Adel, who scored a franchise high 37 points in the defeat. Alex Campbell, Murphy Burnatowski, and former BlackJack Kadre Gray led the way for the Bandits squad that refuses to stay down for the count.
Ottawa got off to a hot start, leading 27-21 after the first quarter, thanks to the red hot shooting of Adel and U SPORTS standout Nervens Demosthene, who went a combined 7-for-7 from the field, including 4 threes. The lead arguably should have been bigger, but Fraser Valley caught Ottawa being flatfooted in transition on multiple occasions and were able to make some open three-pointers.
The BlackJacks were able to slow the game down in the middle quarters, but were unable to get noteworthy contributions from anyone other than the former Cleveland Cavalier. This was despite the team dominating the paint, finishing the game with a 43-31 advantage in the rebounding department. Even when it looked like they were going to start to pull away, like starting the third quarter on a 9-2 run, their offense would eventually stall out and the Bandits would make consecutive three-pointers to close the gap.
Those failures to put away the Bandits early ended up costing the BlackJacks in the end. Adel and big man Chad Posthumus – who finished just shy of a double-double with 9 points and 10 rebounds – both fouled out during the Elam ending, which really took away any of the offense bite the team had.
Leading 87-83 with the target score set at 89, the BlackJacks had multiple chances at putting the game away. However, G-League star Walt Lemon Jr. failed to capitalize on a couple of easy buckets, and the Bandits would go on a 7-0 run to claim victory, punctuated by a Campbell 3-pointer to win it.
“We also had a bunch of great looks that just didn’t go in at that point as well,” BlackJacks head coach Charles Dube-Brais said of the finish. “We could have done a much better job at executing a zone offense. It wasn’t quite were we wanted to be, but I still think we had our shots.”
“We had some layup opportunities we missed and I think those added up. We just left a lot of things on the table tonight because I thought we were in control for most of it. We just let them hang around by missing transition opportunities.”
On the other side of the court, the victory marked the first CEBL win for Fraser Valley Bandits head coach Mike Taylor. The veteran bench boss has plied his trade all across the globe, but this marked his debut in the Great White North.
“It was fantastic,” Taylor said of the experience. “We had a really productive training camp, but you never know what you have until you come out here and play. Let’s give credit and respect to the Ottawa team, they controlled much of the game. Adel shot the ball really well, they out rebounded us, they played very physical. We struggled for a lot of the game to get or feet under us. We made a couple of adjustments in the second half that I think helped. Again, I want to give credit to our team. These guys played with great heart. They never quit, and again, we got some breaks down the stretch and in Elam ending.”
This was a frustrating, disappointing way for the team to start off the season. As both coaches admitted, this was Ottawa’s game to lose, and they did just that. They couldn’t find a way to break out of the zone, which ultimately cost them their second consecutive home opener.
The BlackJacks need to find a way to incorporate more players on offense. It’s unrealistic to expect Adel to do anything near what he did on Wednesday every time out. Not that it’s an excuse, but the BlackJacks are still waiting on Tommy Scrubb, Jackson Rowe, and Jermaine Haley to join the team. All three are effective scorers, and hopefully can join the lineup sooner rather than later.
Next for Ottawa is a trip to Montreal. The Alliance are coming off a flat performance against the Hamilton Honey Badgers, and on paper have perhaps the weakest roster in the league. It is absolutely imperative that the BlackJacks find a way to correct their mistakes and pick up a victory on the road. This is the easiest section of their schedule, and if they can’t put up a winning record early, it will be damning for the rest of the season.