By Libaan Osman
With about five seconds left in the fourth quarter, Ryerson guard Ammanuel Diressa put his team on his back.
Down 77-74 against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, the star guard hoisted up a three-point attempt over the outstretched hand of Ottawa’s Brandon Robinson, and the entire crowd at Coca-Cola Court held its breath.
As Diressa’s shot travelled through the air, his teammates excitedly rose off the bench in anticipation of overtime. Diressa didn’t disappoint them. The shot fell, giving Ryerson a chance at a come-from-behind victory that they didn’t squander.
In overtime, Ryerson defeated Ottawa 95-92 on Friday night, but all anybody could talk about was the shot that made it all possible.
“The game of basketball, the beauty of it is how unpredictable it is at times. You just gotta be able to seize the moment,” said Ryerson assistant coach Borko Popic after the game.
And if there’s anybody who understands how to seize the moment, it’s Diressa. After a less-than-stellar first half, which ended with only four points, Diressa had a second half for the ages, scoring 37 of his 41 points on 11-15 shooting. The fifth-year guard also added five rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes of action.
But Ottawa proved to be a formidable foe for Ryerson, forcing the Rams into a back-and-forth affair that saw both teams take turns with the lead.
Ryerson opened the game on a 10-3 run, but six turnovers quickly led to nine points for Ottawa, allowing the Gee-Gees to catch their footing in the first half. At the end of one quarter, the Ottawa held the Rams to 4-15 shooting, and were up 19-13.
During the first half, Ryerson was getting absolutely nothing going inside; in the entire first half, the team only managed eight points in the paint. So instead of getting high-percentage shots from in tight, the Rams had to rely on their perimeter play.
Luckily, the shots were falling from three. Forward Adam Voll was able to find his stroke early, scoring 10 of his 17 points in the first half on 3-4 shooting from three. It was three point shooting that kept the Rams alive, and at the half, the team had connected on six of fifteen attempts from deep.
“If you get a clean look, you gotta take it, next time you get a clean look, you gotta take it again,” Popic said. “It’s just confidence and trust in your teammates and your own abilities. If you’re open, let it fly and we made shots when it counted.”
Ottawa was able to shoot 55.2 per cent from the field while also outscoring Ryerson’s bench 18-3 in the first half. Calvin Epistola scored 10 of his 20 points in the first half for the Gee-Gees.
Down 57-55 after three, the Rams went on an 8-0 run to start the fourth, but the Gee-Gees responded with their own 14-0 run to give them a comfortable 71-63 lead with 4:07 left to play. That’s when Ryerson started to make their push. With Diressa leading the way, the Rams managed to fight back and give themselves a chance to force overtime.
Poor starts don’t affect Diressa’s mindset, as the guard recalled last year’s game against the Carleton Ravens in the OUA finals. In that game, Diressa had a similar poor start, but was able to finish strong, scoring 15 of his 24 points in the fourth to lead the Rams to their second-straight Wilson Cup victory.
“Just knowing that I’ve done it in the past, where I’ve had good games even though I’ve started badly,” Diressa said. “It just gives me the confidence to keep playing.”
Diressa now leads the OUA in scoring averaging 25.2 points through 16 games. In his last three outings, he’s averaging 39.3 points, and with the team facing the always-tough Ravens on Saturday night, the Rams will need another miraculous performance from Diressa to take down the league’s top dogs.
They’ll also need contributions from Ryerson’s other stars who made the Ottawa victory possible, including Myles Charvis, who finished the game with 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Jean-Victor Mukama will also have to be instrumental in Saturday’s matchup. Against Ottawa, he finished with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
With a full-fledged effort from these players and some help from the supporting cast, the Rams could make a major statement against Carleton, who lead the OUA with a 17-0 record.
The past two seasons, Ryerson has defeated Carleton when it mattered, in the OUA playoffs. But against a team like the Ravens, every game matters, and a regular season victory would give the Rams major momentum as the second half of the season continues.
UP NEXT: The Rams will take on the Carleton Ravens at the Coca-Cola Court on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.