By Ben Waldman
After an 82-68 win over the Windsor Lancers, the Ryerson Rams’ championship hopes are alive and well.
It was a fitting start to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Final 8 tournament for the Rams, who played in front of an electric home crowd at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
The buzz was unlike anything the Rams had seen this season, yet the team looked convincingly comfortable.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on us,” Rams guard Jahmal Jones said, citing Windsor’s superior ranking. “This is my last one, same with Jordon [Gauthier] and Bjorn [Michaelsen], so we’re just here to enjoy it.”
Jones and his backcourt mate Adika Peter-McNeilly sparked the Ryerson attack early on, with 11 points apiece in the first quarter.
Peter-McNeilly finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds, actively creating opportunities for his teammates.
“Adika doesn’t get as much credit as he should,” Jones said. “He’s had a lot of great games for us, especially against great teams.”
On a night when Aaron Best’s shots were not falling, Peter-McNeilly and Jones, who chipped in with 20 points in 37 minutes, became increasingly important in their team’s hope for victory.
Windsor’s star trio, Rotimi Osuntola Jr., Evan Matthews and Mitch Farrell hit only 29.6 per cent of their shots, and their relatively underwhelming performances contributed heavily to the loss.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve talked about defense being the key and I thought this game was really about that,” Ryerson head coach Roy Rana said. “Offensively, we could have been better. [We were] A little sloppy and turned the ball over a lot.”
Ryerson committed 16 turnovers in the game, with 12 — about one short of their regular season average — coming in the first half.
Though his team was ranked second and Ryerson seventh, Windsor coach Chris Oliver was aware that his players were in for a battle.
“I’m sure Vegas didn’t have us as favourites in this game but I thought we could have been better and I thought we could have gotten the win,” Elliot said.
Windsor beat both Ottawa and Carleton this season, but was defeated handily by the Rams the last time they met in November.
Theoretically, this game could have gone either way, with both teams showing flashes of brilliance. But Ryerson put together an incompletely complete performance on both sides of the court, doing everything they needed to secure a berth in the semi-finals.
Ryerson advances to play the Ottawa Gee-Gees, moving ever closer to the W.P. McGee Trophy as national champions.
Rana has insisted all season long that his team has yet to hit its peak.
The way the Rams played tonight, and with the clock ticking, it’s hard to believe they have much farther to go to get there.
Photos by Charles Vanegas, Jenelle Seelal, Anders Marshall and Annie Arnone.