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BlackJacks stun Alliance in thriller

Ottawa Blackjacks Isaih Moore - CEBL

Isaih Moore scored the game-winning basket after the ball fortuitously came right to him underneath the basket, leading the Ottawa BlackJacks (1-3) to their first win of the 2024 CEBL season, 87-86 over the Montreal Alliance (1-4) Wednesday night at Verdun Auditorium.

The victory was a much-needed sigh of relief for a BlackJacks team that was looking down the barrel of a disastrous 0-4 start to their 2024 season.

“If feels great to get the monkey off our back,” said Ottawa head coach James Derouin. “We’ve been close, especially our last two games, so, to get one on the road, we’ve been on the road for three of our first four games as well, it feels great.”

Moore finished with a 25-point, 11-rebound double-double, shooting 11-for 14 from the floor.

“My coaches and my teammates,” said Moore of what has allowed him to get so comfortable so quickly in his first CEBL season. “They’ve welcomed me with open arms since Day 1 and have really allowed me to play freely.”

Moore looked to have strong chemistry with BlackJacks guard Brandon Sampson, who had 21 points and five assists in the win.

“In this league, the top players [like Sampson] are so talented that you’ve got to stick with them no matter what,” said Derouin. “I thought Brandon made great plays down the stretch.”

Added Moore: “Brandon’s a good player, so I definitely like running the pick-and-roll with him.”

Entering Target Score Time, the Target Score was set at 87.

Ottawa’s Lloyd Pandi, whose three assists Wednesday hgave him 100 for his career (regular season and playoffs combined), started things off, drilling a corner three to put the BlackJacks up 79-78. After some back and forth, the Alliance had an opportunity to win it up 84-83 coming out of a timeout. A missed Ahmed Hill three turned into an Elijah Ifejeh offensive rebound and putback to put Montreal up 86-83.

The BlackJacks kept sticking with it, however, as Javon Masters managed to knife into the lane and score a layup and bring Ottawa within one again, 86-85. Then, on the ensuing defensive possession, strong Ottawa defence forced Montreal’s Chris Smith, who had a strong game with 19 points and 12 rebounds, to travel, one of the nine turnovers he committed.

Unfortunately, Sampson was unable to convert a layup on the other end to seal the game, but it ended up being OK for the BlackJacks as Ifejeh ended up making a bad pass straight into Moore’s hands directly underneath the basket after he grabbed the defensive rebound, leading to an easy game-winning bucket for the BlackJacks star.

For Ottawa the game-ending sequence was a sign of things finally looking up for them, and for Montreal, it was the final nail in what ultimately ended up being its Wednesday-evening coffin.

The Alliance looked like the better team Wednesday as they dominated the paint, scoring 48 points inside, owned the glass, out-rebounding the BlackJacks 47-32, and picking up 17 second-chance points thanks largely to the 13 offensive rebounds Montreal managed to pull down.

So, what happened?

All of that good work was undone by the 20 turnovers committed by Montreal, none more costly than the Smith travel and the bad pass by Ifejeh at the end of Target Time Score.

“We’re playing for something this year,” said Alliance head coach Derrick Alston Sr., alluding to the fact his team will be Championship Weekend hosts. “We play for something every year, but it’s a step up this year and we can’t baby this group. We’ve gotta be brutally honest and brutally honest right away. Because, if not, they think that [stuff] is OK. And that’s not OK.

“I let them know in the locker room that’s not OK. We can’t have our two bigs and our star player with 17 turnovers out of our 20. That’s unacceptable.

The Alliance carried a 50-40 halftime lead after a 10-point, six-rebound performance from Smith over the first two periods.

The BlackJacks were able to setup their Target Score Time dramatics thanks to a wild sequence at the end of the third quarter that saw Montreal’s Freddy Ibrahim knock down a rainbow three with seven seconds to play in the frame, followed by a Sampson three-quarter court heave that went in as time expired on the clock to pull Ottawa within striking distance, 74-68.

Up Next

Up next for both clubs is a rematch with one another in Ottawa as they close out this home-and-home series next week on Tuesday.

For the BlackJacks they’ll be looking to build on this momentum, while revenge will surely be on the Alliance’s mind