The last time the Brampton Honey Badgers took the floor at TD Place Arena in downtown Ottawa, confetti filled the court as the Honey Badgers defeated the Scarborough Shooting Stars to win their first CEBL championship.
On Wednesday night, playing their first game as defending champions, the newly relocated Honey Badgers left the Capital city knowing they let one slip through their paws.
The Ottawa BlackJacks, behind a heroic 27-point effort from Kadre Gray (Toronto, Ont.) defeated the defending champions 95-93 in a wild Elam Ending to open-up year five of the Canada Elite Basketball League.
Limited to a short bench and fighting off an injury to one of their impactful newcomers. The BlackJacks railed from 13 points down early in the third-quarter and an eight point deficit in Elam time, as Gray drilled a deep, straight line, walk-off triple to pull off a signature win and stun the Honey Badgers.
Gray, a former two-time U SPORTS player of the year, kept Ottawa in the game by staying in attack mode to lead five BlackJacks players in double-figures.
The six-foot-one guard, also got his teammates involved with nine assists, was active on the glass with five rebounds and was equally impressive in the shooting department with 8-of-16 shooting, 3-of-7 from three-pointers and a flawless 9-of-9 from the foul line.
“Be aggressive, be aggressive. I started the game out as a facilitator. They (coaches) get on me about that, but honestly, just faith the whole time that we’re going to win the game,” commented Gray after his game-winning shot.
When asked about, the statement a win like this sends to the rest of the CEBL league, Gray responded, “There’s always going to be doubters. I think we just have to focus on our change room, focus on what we’ve got going, and just pick up win after win.”
“You have to stay focused. You have to stay locked in on what you’re doing. We have some good leaders in this locker room. Guys on the way. I think we’re in a pretty great position.” Gray added, expressing gratitude for the opportunity and the team’s current position. “We’re going to keep building.”
In his first CEBL game, six-foot-one American guard Micheal Flowers (Southfield, MI) made an immediate impact, sinking 4-of-9 three-pointers and finishing with 20 points in 22 minutes.
Reflecting on the game, Flowers said, “We actually practised that exact scoreline. Being down nine, going into Elam, it came good for us today.”
When asked if this was his first experience playing in the Elam Ending format, Flowers responded, “Yeah, it actually was. It actually was. So that’s exciting. Every game is going to be won with a game-winner. That’s my type of game.”
Zena Edosomwan, a native of Los Angeles, California, took full advantage of the absence of Honey Badgers’ big man Jeremiah Tilmon Jr., by dominating the paint and recording a double-double for Ottawa with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
BlackJacks head coach James Derouin had to rely on another USPORTS standout, Cole Syllas (Kingston, Ont.), after starting guard Elijah Pemberton (Middleton, CT) exited the game with a severe tailbone injury and was transported to a local hospital.
Syllas, arguably the greatest player in Queen’s University men’s basketball history, made meaningful contributions off the bench in his first professional game, scoring 10 points, grabbing five rebounds, and providing two assists in 23 minutes.
“We were the only CEBL team that gave him a shot. He’s a first-team All-Canadian. There are some guys that got drafted that aren’t even All-Stars. I wasn’t going to let that happen. We had to have him here in camp, and I’m glad we did,” praised Coach James Derouin of Syllas’ performance.
“He’s doing what he does in our league. He’s a pain in the ass. He’s long, he’s active. In the second half, he’s the highest IQ guy that we have on this roster. We were using him as a roamer defensively. We were trying to put him on the weakest player that was on the other team and let him roam and tag the rolls while we trapped the ball screen. He’s the only guy capable of executing that time and time again. He was huge, and then he chipped in with a little offence,” Coach Derouin continued, emphasizing Syllas’ versatility and impact on both ends of the court.
Despite the collapse in the late stages of the game, Christian Vital, the Honey Badgers star player, remained unfazed. Vital finished the contest with 24 points, five assists, and five steals, and he expressed confidence in his team’s effort.
“Keep playing, play the full game, play together, which we did. Like I said, execute for the full game,” Vital said, highlighting the importance of maintaining focus and teamwork throughout the entire match.
“We’re not worried about any team in the league. We feel like we shouldn’t even have lost today. And that’s like I said, without Tilly (Tillman Jr.). So good for them that they got their win, but we know what’s up, and they know what’s up as well,” Vital confidently stated, showing his team’s determination and belief in their abilities.
Koby McEwen also had a hot hand, contributing 19 points and four assists on 6-of-11 shooting. Prince Oduro showcased his skills with a double-double of 17 points and eleven rebounds, while Zane Waterman rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Honey Badgers with 13 points and three rebounds.
The BlackJacks improved to 2-3 all-time against the Honey Badgers in the regular season.