By Harlan Nemers
HALIFAX — The Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team made history by winning their first-ever game at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) finals Saturday by defeating the Concordia Stingers. The Rams used a balanced team effort to come back to win 84-80 after dropping their first game in Halifax against Alberta.
“I thought we kept fighting and we didn’t get off to a good start again tonight but I’m proud of the kids, they never gave up,” said Rams’ coach Roy Rana. “I think we’re just trying to do the best we can every night. Today I thought we got off to a slow start but after that I thought we had a great game.”
Bjorn Michaelson scored a game-high 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and added four assists for the Rams. Ryerson will be playing in Sunday’s final consolation game against the Acadia Axemen.
After being outscored 24-18 in the first quarter, the Rams topped the Stingers in the final three in front of a crowd of 2,600.
“Bjorn was great, Jahmal played well for us but Gavin Berry came off the bench and did a great job for us. A big part of our win today was because of Gavin,” said Rana.
Berry, a rookie from Waterloo, came off the bench to score six points and six rebounds in 22 minutes. Jahmal Jones scored 14 points, Luke Staniscia chipped in with 15 and Aaron Best added 17 points.
James Clark was the best player for the Stingers, scoring 22 points, snatching a game-high 9 rebounds, and adding three dimes.
“We had a good start but Ryerson fought back,” said Stingers captain Kyle Desmarais. “I mean we are up 15 [at] two points in the game. We should’ve been able to sustain those leads but unfortunately our second unit let the Rams back into the game.”
Although most stats were very similar, the Rams had a 24-10 advantage in points off of turnover. Both teams shot an identical 47 per cent on 31/66 shooting and the Rams were even out-shot in a strong second-half.
But then Ryerson was able to go on a 20-3 at the 5:53 mark in the third quarter run to take a 61-63 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We started out kind of slow but I think today at halftime, we just realized what was at stake. You don’t want to go all the way to Halifax and not win something,” said Rams captain Luke Staniscia. “We’re not going to win the championship, but we’re getting better every year. It’s one step forward.”
At the 2:41 mark of the first quarter the Rams trailed 20- 6 before a trio of three-pointers spawned an 18-6 early in the second quarter. After tying the game for the first time late in the second quarter, the Stingers would pull away into the third quarter.
But it didn’t last.
The Rams third quarter rally, capped by off by a Best layup at the 7:10 mark, gave them their first lead 63-62. After that point, the Rams and Stingers were entrenched in a heated affair with two lead changes, while the trailing team was never behind more than nine points.
“I think defensively, we broke down in the second half. Ryerson got a little bit on a roll and we tried to come back but we couldn’t,” said Stingers coach Ernie Rosa. “We allowed their players to get inside and their big men to get open and our defensive penetration killed us.”
For the Rams, this win is monumental, arguably their most important victory ever. For the first time in school history, they have won a CIS Final 8 game, the last time they made the Nationals was in 2000 and they were ousted in the first round.
“Yeah, it was on our minds,” said first-team all-star Jones in response to wanting to win Ryerson’s first game at Nationals. “I guess we knew if we didn’t win today we probably wouldn’t play again and we knew we hadn’t won a national championship game so we tried to get this one. You always want to end [the season] with a win.”
The Rams will have to prepare for their next game quickly in the third and final game of a back-to-back-to-back triple header. They face the host Axemen at the Halifax Metro Center in the consolation final where winner takes fifth. It will also mark captain Luke Staniscia’s last game ever as a Ram.
“I stretched out my career as long as I possibly could,” said Staniscia, “so I’m pretty happy about that.”