By Sports Editor Gabriel Lee
Ric Flair, one of the most successful professional wrestlers of all time, always used to say: to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.
When the undefeated Carleton Ravens strolled into Ryerson’s Kerr Hall gym last Friday night, it was a chance for the Rams to beat the man.
The Rams had never looked more formidable.
Bjorn Michaelsen and Aaron Best, two of the Rams’ star players, returned from injury over the Christmas break. The team picked up their first piece of hardware since 1999 at the Ryerson University National Invitational Tournament (RUNIT). And they were fresh off two convincing victories on the road against RMC and Queen’s university by a combined margin of 111 points.
The Carleton Ravens are indisputably the measuring stick of the CIS, having won seven of the last nine national championships. Last year, the Ravens outclassed the Rams by 38 points.
Michaelsen, Best and the rest of the Rams looked determined to show that they could hang with the champs during the warm-ups. Every dunk was punctuated with a primal scream, after every made shot the players held their follow through an extra few seconds. You could just tell the Rams weren’t treating this like any ordinary game.
“I’ve had an extra competitive edge towards basketball players from Ottawa since my OBA (Grassroots basketball Canada) days,” said Best. “I know a couple of the guys on Carleton, it’s nice to play against guys you’ve played before.”
“It’s always exciting to play the number one team in the country,” added point guard Jahmal Jones. “Nobody expects them to lose so if my team can beat them, it’ll give us a lot of confidence.”
On paper, the Rams were the underdogs, but the way the Rams approached the game, you would’ve thought they were the ones who were the defending national champions; akin to how nobody believed in Rocky Balboa in the first installment of the series. In order for the Rams to hang with the champions, they needed to play a perfect game.
The Rams matched the Ravens blow for blow for 10 full minutes trailing 17-15 after one quarter. In fact, Ryerson led for a full seven minutes after taking an early 4-0 lead. During that first quarter, the Rams were proving as long as they were healthy, they can compete with anyone.
Then the Rams came crashing back to earth. Carleton opened the second quarter with three consecutive three-pointers, pushing their lead to double digits in a blink of an eye. Carleton outscored the Rams 26-9 in the second quarter, and led 43-24 at half.
This time last year, the Rams lay down and allowed the Ravens to have their way in the second half. This time around, the Rams did the opposite, offering some resistance before the Ravens delivered the knockout punch.
Despite the loss, Ryerson had spurts where they continued to show no fear. Jahmal Jones was relentlessly attacking the basket no matter what the score was, finishing with a hard earned 10 points. Aaron Best attempted throwing down a two-handed dunk between two Carleton defenders but unfortunately missed. The Ravens’ executed their offence to perfection, despite one of Ryerson’s delivering one of their better defensive games of the season to date.
In the end, the Rams bowed out 87-56.
“We were a lot better today [than we were last year]. Other than the second quarter we were competitive,” said head coach Roy Rana. “I was happy to see it could’ve gotten ugly, but we didn’t give up and fought the whole way through.”
Rana praised the Ravens as a well oiled-machine. When asked what his team needs to do in order to compete with the best team in the country, the head coach believes the team just needs time to mature and grow communally. He referenced Lakehead University’s steady improvement over the past three seasons, culminating in an OUA championship last year when they handed the very same Ravens their first loss of the season, as a model of success.
Jones agrees saying “we’re still in the feeling out process, we have a lot of new guys on the team.”
What we saw out of the young Rams tonight was encouraging. At 5-7, they’ve beaten the teams they should beat and have stayed competitive with the teams ahead of them in the standings. But as far as Friday night is concerned, it was a message from the national champions that the status quo remains the same.
“It was overwhelming at times, because a lot of things we were good at, we couldn’t do,” Jones adds. “We had one point in transition, that’s not us. They had 41. Tonight was a reality check.”
The bottom line is the Ryerson Rams were unable to beat the man, thus the Carleton Ravens are still the man.