Hot off the back of a 4-1 stretch, the Ottawa BlackJacks visited the Edmonton Stingers on Tuesday for the start of a 3-game western road trip.
The BlackJacks had won the first match-up between the teams back on June 23, taking a 92-84 victory in what was the team’s first home win of the season and a real turning point of the campaign. Unfortunately for Ottawa, their previous win and the ensuing momentum wouldn’t be enough to claim victory in the rematch.
Despite playing in a closely contested game for much of the contest, the BlackJacks fell apart in Elam time when it mattered the most and ended up on the losing end of a 96-88 scoreboard.
Let’s look back on how the Stingers were able to cool off the hottest team in the league, and what the BlackJacks need to do to bounce back.
Ottawa pulled into the City of Champions without Jackson Rowe (who was given the night off) and Maxime Boursiquot (who was missing his fifth consecutive game with a lower body injury). To make up for their shortcomings in the front court, the BlackJacks brought in Josh Inkumsah and dressed fellow University of Ottawa Alum Guillaume Pepin. Still, their lack of experience left Ottawa with a short bench, which makes you wonder why the team didn’t opt to put veteran Ryan Wright into his first game of the season.
Both teams struggled to get their 3-point shooting games going, with Ottawa hitting 6-of-21 for the game while Edmonton shot 8-of-17. That resulted in a game that was mostly played in the paint and led to a lot of fouls for both teams. Normally, that would be the end of the BlackJacks, as their free throw shooting has been poor by middle school standards, let alone that of professional basketball players. Fortunately for the away team, they had a reversal of fortune at the line, hitting 16-of-20 shots from the charity stripe. The team was led by Kadre Gray, who was playing in his third game since rejoining the team and hit all 7 of his free throws on the way to a season high 22 points.
Foul troubled haunted the team early and prevented head coach James Derouin from finding a lineup that could play well together. The team ended up with just three players reaching double figures, while players like the red-hot Tyrell Green and consistent top performer Deng Adel struggled throughout.
Despite all of that, it was 87-85 as the game headed into Elam time, and the BlackJacks were still very much in it. However, Walt Lemon Jr. appeared to suffer an injury sometime in the fourth quarter, and, inexplicably, the team decided to continue to run their offense through him. The results were… less than ideal. Lemon was blocked by Mathieu Kamba on three separate drives to the rim, and turned the ball over on another three occasions.
With the BlackJacks unable to generate anything on offense, it allowed Kamba and Demarco Dickerson – who had been cooking all night – to put a seal on the game, as they finished with 20 and 29 points, respectively.
The Achilles heel(s) for the BlackJacks all season have been free throws and turnovers. This was the rare example of a time where they actually shot well from the stripe and took care of the ball (at least for the first 35 minutes) but still came away with the loss.
Ultimately, it was foul trouble that led to their downfall Tuesday night. Both centers ended up in trouble early, which made them tentative to attack or defend. That allowed Edmonton to win the battle in the paint and dominate the boards.
With CEBL teams being the way they are, the small rosters make it hard to replace two key players like Rowe and Boursiquot (though again, Ottawa did have Wright available to them). When you combine that with the fact that Edmonton prevented Ottawa from playing the style of game they wanted to – and fair credit to them for doing so – it basically spelt disaster for the BlackJacks.
But again, the team was still in the game up until the end. This should ultimately be a learning experience for both Lemon Jr. and Derouin. If Walt truly was injured, it’s up to him to rely on the pieces around him to do the scoring and not force bad shots or passes. For Derouin, he has to realize what is happening in the game and get the ball in the hands of his other playmakers. Situations like this are exactly why the team was happy to be able to bring Gray back into the fold; he’s a player who is not afraid to be the main facilitator of the offense.
The team will have to quickly build upon their performance, as they’re right back at it against a Saskatchewan Rattlers squad that will be looking for revenge after getting embarrassed in their last meeting. Hopefully they are able to clean up the foul trouble and pick up another big win on the road to the playoffs.