By Victor Ferreira
With 3.3 seconds left in overtime, hands were shaking, fingernails were being bitten, and the more than 150 fans that packed into the stands in Kerr Hall Gym were silent.
Down by two points, they were hoping to see the men’s basketball team complete one of the greatest comebacks in Ryerson basketball history.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Veteran forward Ryan McNeilly missed the game winning three-pointer as the game clock expired in overtime and the Toronto Varsity Blues defeated the Ryerson Rams 82-80 in overtime.
At the end of overtime, rookie guard Jordan Gauthier hit two clutch free throws to give Ryerson an 80-79 advantage, but Blues guard Justin Holmes quickly responded by draining what proved to be the game winning three-pointer with 13.6 seconds left on the clock.
Holmes dominated the Rams on the perimeter throughout the game, scoring 18 of his 22 points from behind the arc while shooting 60 per cent from the field.
When asked about Holmes’ game winning shot, Varsity Blues Head Coach Mike Katz admitted that the basket was scored on a broken play.
“There was no play,” said Katz. “He fluked a shot.”
Holmes believed there was a little more skill involved.
“They were playing me pretty tightly,” said Holmes. “When I finally managed to get open, I just trusted my instincts and let go.”
The contest wasn’t always a close one as Toronto (10-5) held as much as a 16-point lead over the Rams (6-9) in the third quarter. When the game was slipping away, the crowd woke up. Fuelled by the fans, the Rams went on a 12-2 run which allowed them to cut Toronto’s lead to six points.
“The crowd was great all-around,” said Rana. “We had a playoff atmosphere tonight and it definitely helped.”
At the end of a cautious opening quarter, which allowed both teams to test the grit of each other’s zone defences, Varsity Blues guard Arun Kumar woke up the dormant crowd when he sunk a buzzer-beating shot from well beyond the half-court line to end the quarter.
The second quarter brought no changes as both teams continued to rely on their defensive play. The Varsity Blues intricate zone defence did not help matters, as the Rams had problems penetrating the paint, while perimeter shooters were consistently facing high-pressured double-teams.
Rana was eventually able to guide his players into breaking the near-impenetrable zone.
“We used our speed to our advantage and were able to score on transition,” said Rana.
Although it was a slow start for some of the Rams starters, bench players like rookie guard Jordon Gauthier, who scored 14 points, and back-up point guard Afewo Gebrekerestos, who scored 15 points, managed to keep the Rams afloat in the first half.
However, during the second-half and throughout overtime, the Rams’ key players began producing. Guards Ola Adegboruwa, Jahmal Jones, and Ryan McNeilly each finished the game with 14 points.
Although Adegboruwa assisted in leading the Rams’ comeback, he was unable to finish when the game was on the line. With 4.3 seconds left in overtime, Adegboruwa missed a dunk when he attempted to leap over a Toronto defender.
The co-captain knew that he could’ve done better.
“I knew I had to go up strong but I missed,” said Adegboruwa. “There are no excuses, I’ve got to finish.”
The loss ends the Rams’ four-game win-streak and leaves them in a three-way tie for fourth place with Laurentian and Ottawa. The Rams will look to bounce back with a double-header at Kerr Hall Gym this weekend against Laurentian and York on Friday and Saturday respectively. A victory in both games is crucial as it could catapult the Rams to third place in the standings.
The team wants the same support that it received today.
“It’s important for fans to come out,” said Adegboruwa. “They give us our energy.”
Photo Credit: Christopher Dale