By Ben Waldman
It wasn’t the colour they wanted, but the Ryerson men’s basketball team won the first medal in program history Sunday afternoon with an 82-68 win over the Victoria Vikes in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) bronze medal game.
After a heartbreaking loss to Ottawa the night before, the Rams played admirably, led by point guard Jahmal Jones in his final game wearing the Ryerson blue and gold.
Jones — who got his first and only points of the Ottawa game in the fourth quarter — got going early on, scoring the first seven points of the game for the Rams.
That made all the difference in the world.
The Rams could have written this game off, but Ryerson head coach Roy Rana says that Jones’ play didn’t let that happen.
“I think to some degree we’re a reflection of Jahmal and his intense competitiveness,” Rana said. “There’s no way he’s going to step on the floor and not compete. That just never happens.”
In his final game, Jones played the way he has his entire career: tough, driven and as the focal point of the Ryerson offense. He scored 25 points to go along with eight assists, six rebounds and four steals.
Victoria didn’t give the Rams an easy path to victory, keeping the deficit within 10 points until late in the fourth.
Adika Peter-McNeilly, who continued his strong finish to the season, hit a massive three pointer late in the fourth to extend the lead to 14. There was no going back after that.
Peter-McNeilly noted that his team had little time to recuperate, but the game was the last of a historic season and three historic careers at Ryerson, and the team wouldn’t allow their graduating seniors to leave on a losing note.
“It’s the last game for [Bjorn Michaelsen, Jordan Gauthier and Jones], so we tried to give them their last win,” Peter-McNeilly said. “It’s our last time playing with them.”
Gauthier scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Michaelsen played solid defense and looked at ease in the offense.
As the clock winded down in the fourth quarter, Jones stood dribbling and wiped sweat from his brow.
Rana took the trio of Michaelsen, Gauthier and Jones out, and just like that, their careers ended in a beautiful moment.
With the core of his first recruiting class graduating, it was an understandably emotional day for Rana, whose sixth season as Ryerson coach culminated in some much-deserved national attention for the basketball program.
“It’s really, really special. I think we forget sometimes [that] these things aren’t given,” Rana said. “For us to get a medal, as time moves on, we’ll realize and appreciate how special that really is and [it’s] something that I’ll savour in my career. I think the bronze medal will be a reminder of the special group of kids.”
The future is bright for Ryerson, with the bulk of their roster set to return next season. Guard Aaron Best, a star in his own right, big man Kadeem Green, Peter-McNeilly and JV Mukama will continue their stellar careers in expanded roles.
“In my twenty years of coaching I can honestly say that this has been one of the most special seasons I’ve had,” Rana said after his team’s loss to Ottawa on Saturday.
On Sunday afternoon, he remained optimistic for next year’s prospects at nationals.
“We’ll be back. We’ll be there,” Rana said assuredly.
The Rams’ bronze medal is the first medal of any colour from any team in school history and will hopefully be the first of many more pieces of hardware to fill the school trophy case over the years to come.
With Rana at the helm, the excellence of the athletes, and the support of the school, there is no reason to doubt that gold may be on the horizon.