Well, it’s been a busy week for the Ottawa BlackJacks, both on the court with three games, and off the court with the addition of two new players. The action was so frantic, in fact, that I wasn’t able to keep up with the real time coverage of it all.
But fear not, as I’m here now to look back on the week that was for our beloved basketball team and catch you up with all their goings on.
As Julie Andrews once said, “Let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start.”
Ottawa BlackJacks at Niagara River Lions – June 18
The BlackJacks stretch started with a trip to Niagara for the first game in a home-and-home battle, the only two times the teams will see each other in the regular season.
Meeting the BlackJacks in the Niagara was the most recent signing, Teyvon Myers. The West Virginia alum brings big game experience to the club, having spent seasons in the top leagues in Germany and France. Ottawa was hopeful that he would be able to shore up the off-guard position, which has been a weak spot for the team as Cody John and Bernard Thompson have struggled out of the gates. Unfortunately for the team, he only had a few hours to practice with the squad and could only muster up 2 points coming off the bench.
The game played out like so many in the BlackJacks season so far: Walt Lemon Jr. and Deng Adel led the way with 22 and 27 points, respectively, but the team was unable to find consistent contributions from anyone else on the bench. The opposite held true for the River Lions, who had five players reach double digits, led by veteran Jaylen Babb-Harrison and MVP candidate Khalil Ahmad.
That team depth – and the inability to get any sort of three-point game going, shooting just 4-for-15 on the night – proved too much to overcome, as the BlackJacks dropped their third game in a row, falling 89-78. The loss pushed Ottawa to 1-6 on the year, and firmly behind the Montreal Alliance, who it appears could end up with the misfortune of missing the playoffs despite finishing with a better record thanks to the BlackJacks postseason bye.
Niagara River Lions at Ottawa BlackJacks – June 21
The BlackJacks returned home two days later hoping to even up the series against the River Lions. They once again had a new player joining the team, as Carleton Raven legend Tommy Scrubb was added to the roster, two years after being part of the inaugural BlackJacks team. Unfortunately for the fans in the building, his brother, Phil, was overseas preparing for his wedding, so they missed out on the chance to see the siblings play against each other.
However, that was another reunion in the game, as friends and college teammates Jackson Rowe and Khalil Ahmad got to face off against each other for the first time as pros.
“I know his game, he knows my game, it’s always fun when you get to play against one of your friends,” Rowe said afterwards. “We talked a little crap, but he’s a great player, he’s really killing it this year, and good luck to him.”
“It was nice,” Ahmad echoed. “I brought him on his visit in college, so it’s full circle. I loved it”
The game had a completely different feel from the previous encounter just a few nights prior, as Ottawa was able to maintain a steady defensive pressure throughout the contest. The game was back and forth for the entirety of the first half, before the BlackJacks pulled away in the third quarter. Niagara was able to tie the game up at the end of the quarter, and went on a 13-2 run to start the fourth.
“I thought we played in a malaise until mid third quarter, and then we found a group on the floor that played with a ton of great energy and just played the way we’ve been playing all year,” Niagara head coach Victor Rasso said post game. “We got a ten-day break coming up, and I knew… these guys talked about it before hand, it’s not going to go well, and it didn’t go well, and we bounced back when we had to, so I’m proud of the guys for that.”
The River Lions continued their run to build up an 81-71 lead heading into Elam time. The BlackJacks were then able to get on a run of their own, closing the gap to 88-86 with the first to 90 being declared the winner. They were able to force a turnover, but a horrible, awful, terrible, horrendous, atrocious, no good, very bad call by the referee allowed Niagara to keep possession, even though the replay made it abundantly clear that Ottawa never touched the ball.
Ahmad was able to get the ball off the ensuing inbound, take a turn-around jumper, and sink the game winning shot.
“You got to look at it as the whole game there were some tough calls,” Rowe said afterwards. “It’s hard to put it on one call or one referee. There were some plays throughout the whole game where there were questionable calls, so you just got to brush it off.”
Despite the loss, the team was still able to take some positives away from the game. On top of the improved defensive performance (for the majority of the game, at least) they also saw contributions come all throughout the lineup up. This time, it was the BlackJacks who saw five players reach double figures in scoring, led by Deng Adel with 20. Scrubb finished with 11 points and 5 steals in his season debut.
“I think we’re finally playing as a team,” Rowe said. “It seemed like everybody was able to go out and show what they can do today, and I think that’s something to build on. Before, we did a lot of isolation basketball, one-on-one, and it hasn’t been as successful, but we’re figuring out a way to do both, isolation and team basketball, and I think we have something to build on.”
Edmonton Stingers at Ottawa BlackJacks – June 23
Playing in their last home game for the next two weeks, the BlackJacks were desperate to pull out a win against the reining back-to-back CEBL champion Edmonton Stingers. Without Xavier Moon on the roster this season, the Stingers have been forced to adapt into more of a defensive team than the free-wheeling offensive juggernaut that they’ve been in past seasons.
That was apparent early in the first quarter, as Edmonton failed to generate much of a threat on the scoresheet, despite being able to grab 9 offensive rebounds. The defensive intensity that the BlackJacks debuted in their previous game was maintained on Thursday night, as the Stingers were unable to get any clean looks at the basket and the BlackJacks were able to spread the ball around, with seven players making baskets in the opening frame.
The story of the first half was Ottawa’s ability to get good looks off ball movement – finishing the first 20 minutes with 13 assists -0 while preventing Edmonton from getting on a run of their own. The BlackJacks took a 42-33 lead into the break.
Coming out of halftime, Ottawa could absolutely do no wrong, as Lemon and Rowe bombarded the Stingers with a barrage of three-pointers that pushed Ottawa’s lead as high as 22. The offense looked more cohesive than it has all year, something Lemon Jr. said after the game was merely just a result of the team gelling over time.
“We’re getting used to playing with each other, and I think the more we play with each other, the more we practice and just be around each other, it’s just going to keep getting better,” he said. “I think it start with me just being aggressive, and guys understanding, when I’m driving, I’m not always looking to score. I’m looking to get my no-looks going and stuff. But they did a great job catching them. If they don’t catch them passes, I don’t get no assists. They’re making me look good.”
Just when it looked like the home team was about to cost to victory, the visitors stormed back with a 17-5 run of their own. While runs like that have broken this BlackJacks this season, the team was determined to make sure that wasn’t the case Thursday.
“All season we’ve been through adverse times and in close games,” Lemon Jr. said afterwards. “Tonight, as a group, we buckled down and said, ‘No, we’re not going to let this slip away again’. There’s been time early in the season where we had leads and let it fold, but it’s a process and we’re still learning.”
Come together the team did, as even though Edmonton was able to close the gap to as little as one point during the Elam ending, Ottawa regain their composure and went on a run to seal the 92-84 win. For head coach and Ottawa native James Derouin, getting that first home victory had an extra special meaning.
“I was actually thinking, when they announce my name before the game, they don’t even mention that I’m from Ottawa or anything. I grew up two blocks from here! And their just like, ‘oh, James Derouin…’ I’m not born and raised in this town? Maybe somebody should know that,” Derouin joked.
“But look, everything about this experience is special, doing this in my hometown. I get to coach the university here where I played, and now I get to coach the pro team here. It’s a huge honour to do it, it’s a lot of fun. I grew up playing sports in this town, from hockey to soccer, all in the east end here. I’ve actually seen a whole bunch of old friends coming to the games, guys I haven’t seen since I was 12 or 14 years old, coming onto the court and saying hi. Obviously, all that stuff is great. My dad is at every game, my kids are watching at home, it’s super special. Not just the win, but everything about the experience so far.”