By Ben Waldman
For the second year in a row, the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team lost in the national semifinals.
This time around, it stings a bit more.
The Rams entered the tournament with championship aspirations and will now be in the same position they were in twelve months ago: playing for the medal they didn’t want to be playing for on championship Sunday.
From the very start of the game, it felt like Ryerson was battling from behind. In the first quarter, the team took twelve three-pointers and sunk none of them. Zero. The University of Calgary Dinos hit four.
After one, the Rams trailed by 13.
They never fully recovered.
But it would be a disservice to Calgary to say that Ryerson created its own demise. Calgary was clearly the better team on this night. On other nights, who knows? But on Saturday night, there was no question.
Dino guard Thomas Cooper was a giant thorn in the Rams’ sides all game long, making shots that looked un-makeable and getting bounces that looked un-gettable. Cooper had 18 points by half time and finished with 30 on the night.
If Cooper was a thorn, Calgary guard David Kapinga was a knife.
Kapinga, who stands at five-feet, eleven inches, continually had the Rams beat. He grabbed six rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. “He just made championship plays,” Rams coach Patrick Tatham said.
And if Kapinga was a knife to the side, Calgary’s Jasdeep Gill was a dagger through the team’s heart.
As Ryerson climbed its way back in the third quarter— the team trailed by just five— Gill knocked them back down, hitting a trio of triples to quell the oncoming Rams’ assault.
Gill finished with 23 points on 9-13 shooting. Ryerson just had no answers for Calgary’s backcourt trio, who combined for 78 points.
Just like against UBC two days earlier, Ryerson kept falling further and further away from the lead, only to narrow the margin before the cycle repeated itself.
The team’s confidence, once thought unshakeable, underwent an intense tremor.
Ryerson’s guards, who usually make threes, had an unusual night. Adika Peter-McNeilly, Aaron Best and Ammanuel Diressa combined to go 5-25 from the perimeter.
Most nights, those shots fall. Others, they rattle around the rim and then out.
Senior Aaron Best, Ryerson’s All-Canadian guard, won’t get another shot at a national title. He scored 16 points and made plays when Ryerson needed them desperately, but not enough of them.
With six minutes to go in the fourth, Ryerson was only behind five points. Jas Gill hit a three and five became eight. A Gill three-point play turned 10 into 13. And from there, the Rams were done.
The team didn’t want this and their coach certainly didn’t, but nonetheless, Ryerson was strong in defeat.
“It’s been a great experience,” Best said of this year’s tournament. “It’s been a great run and I’m sure the guys will have a lot to take from this.”
After an emotional team huddle following the final buzzer, the Rams walked down the line of Dinos and shook their hands. They didn’t smile, but they didn’t pout either. And a few minutes later they made their way to the opposite baseline.
A group of fans that travelled from Ryerson stood there cheering, even after the loss. Some had their chests painted Ram blue and gold. Others were dressed as bananas. But each of them stood in appreciation of a season to remember.
One by one, Ryerson players expressed their own gratitude.
Coach Patrick Tatham is still pretty thankful as well.
“It’s been a great year,” Tatham said.
But as Tatham and his team know, the year isn’t quite over.
On Sunday, a bronze medal could make it even greater.