By Chris Blanchette
Last year in front of a packed crowd, the Ryerson men’s basketball team watched their dreams of winning a CIS championship end, at the hands of the University of Ottawa.
Last night, for the first time since that heartbreaking game, the Rams had their chance to not only avenge last years defeat against Ottawa, but to do something no previous Rams team had done before:earn the the title of best team in the country.
After defeating the number two ranked Carleton Ravens only a night before, a confident Ryerson squad took the court against the visiting Gee-Gees, hoping to put on an encore performance.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter. Both the Rams and Gee-Gees seemed to be locked in a defensive stalemate until an Ottawa three-ball capped off an impressive display of scoring for both teams, including a two-handed baseline dunk from Ryerson big man Kadeem Green.
With Ryerson leading 83-80, and 38 seconds remaining on the clock, Ottawa point guard Mike L’Africain (14 points, 4 assists, two steals) came down the floor looking to drive the net. There, at the top of the key, JV Mukama made a defensive stand and stripped the ball away from the Ottawa star player. Ryerson guard Ammanuel Diressa was able to make both of his free throws after being fouled, which added to his game high 29 points.
“It felt good [putting on that type of performance] because I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately and it was a big game for the team and a lot of guys who have been here for a while,” said Diressa on his 29-point-display.
Ryerson guard Aaron Best and Green, two players who have been members of the Rams squad for some time, both had double-doubles in the win. Best had 16 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, while Green added 10 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
After Ottawa missed one last-ditch attempt to tie up the game, they were forced to foul Ryerson once again. This time Mukama calmly stepped to the free throw line and drained both of his shots. He then pointed his finger to the sky while sealing the Rams 87-80 victory over the number one team in the CIS.
“If you go back in the replay you can see me pointing at the sky because it’s all thanks to god. This could be the number one team in the country and I don’t know if Ryerson has ever been number one. And on Friday we finally beat Carleton for the first time in 16 years,” said a smiling Mukama after the emotional victory.
Mukama also added that he was happy for head coach Patrick Tatham, and that he received a text from Jahmal Jones after the game.
With this victory the Rams record is now 8-1 – their only loss to the Windsor Lancers, but that was back in November when the team was without Green or rim protector Adam Voll. With the dangerous back court of Diressa, Best and Adika Peter-McNeilly playing their best basketball of the year, it seems there is nowhere for the team to go but up. After beating both the two top teams in the nation, it seems inevitable that Ryerson will land in the top spot in the CIS rankings, for the first time in program history.
Ryerson will take a small road trip up north to play Laurentian University and Nipissing University on their home courts. Upon their return home on Feb. 3, they will once again be forced to defend the Mattamy Athletic Centre against a nationally ranked team in the number three Brock Badgers– this time with a number one ranking.