Ottawa (Justine Jones) – Johnny Berhanemeskel had his best game of the year as his 24 points helped the Ottawa BlackJacks (2-4) stave off a late run by the Fraser Valley Bandits (4-2) to seal a 90-84 victory on Saturday night at TD Place.
Ottawa came out with great energy and attacked the basket early in the opening quarter. Nick Ward was dominant down low, had the team’s first 11 points, and was the only BlackJack to score during the opening five and a half minutes. The former College Park Skyhawk put up hook shots, finished pretty passing plays with slam dunks, and was physical in the paint drawing fouls. Ward tallied 17 points and six rebounds on the night.
The BlackJacks’ guards were also aggressive, driving to the hoop and attracting defenders which in turn opened up good looks for the team’s perimeter shooters. Johnny Berhanemeskel benefited from this, scoring a trio of three-pointers to help stretch Ottawa’s first-half lead.
The Bandits were on the road for the second straight game and had a rocky start. Fraser Valley had seven first-quarter turnovers that led to 16 points for Ottawa. The Bandits took better care of the ball in the second quarter and were able to make a run to cut the lead to single digits. A couple of late BlackJack buckets opened the lead back up to 14 points at the half.
“We have to be better, specifically defensively which kind of was our hallmark to start the season. Obviously being on the road is a lot different and I don’t necessarily think we were ready for that,” said Fraser Valley head coach Dave Singleton. “You can win or lose games in one quarter and I thought that was the determining factor was the first quarter, it was an uphill battle from there. When you’re down 15, 16, 17 points in a quarter in professional basketball it’s very hard to come back.”
Fraser Valley came out with more energy in the third quarter, opening up a 15-5 run to cut the lead to single digits again. The Bandits took the lead at 1:15 in the fourth quarter, marking the first time Fraser Valley led since it was 2-0 in the opening frame. Shaquille Keith, who played with the BlackJacks in 2020, was an integral part of the Bandits’ run, scoring 14 points in the third frame alongside Alex Campbell who contributed eight points in the quarter. All of Keith’s 21 points came in the second half.
“In the first quarter we came out slow and weren’t getting to the free-throw line as much. I just tried to change that, get to spots on the court, get those mismatches and get some aggression around the rim,” said Keith. “I try to bring that same approach to every game but you definitely play with a little extra grit when you play your former team.”
Next up for the BlackJacks and the Bandits is the Guelph Nighthawks (0-4). Ottawa will travel to Guelph to take on the Nighthawks on July 12 at 7:00 p.m. ET at the Sleeman Centre.
Fraser Valley will host the Nighthawks at Abbotsford Centre on July 14 at 7:00 p.m. PT/10:00 p.m. ET. Fans will be welcomed back into the arena for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic and tickets are on sale now at thebandits.ca/tickets.