By Chris Sanders
ST. CATHARINES—The Ryerson Rams are headed back to the OUA’s Wilson Cup championships.
A chaotic OUA semi-final marquee matchup saw the Rams outlast the Brock Badgers 69-63 Wednesday night to guarantee a berth in the OUA gold medal game and a spot to compete at the national tournament.
Having already beaten Ryerson twice so far this year, a psychological advantage along with an imposing (2nd in the OUA) 21-3 record surely gave Brock the leverage they were looking for if home court advantage wasn’t enough.
Bob Davis Gym was packed with excitement and anticipation. Before the primary official even had the chance to throw the opening tip-off, the crowd was going berzerk. A cluttered combination of “Go Badgers Go” and “Go Rams Go” clashed back-and-forth for a congruous semi-final atmosphere.
A seven-point first quarter from Rams guard Ammanuel Diressa and two early Adam Voll blocks pushed Ryerson to a strong start. The Rams opened on a 14-7 run, silencing the home crowd early. Just as Rams fans gained the luxury of taunting their opposition, the Badgers made a run of their own, taking a late 21-20 first quarter lead.
Once again, Ryerson looked in control of the game. Brock struggled to find offensive openings, and when they did, the Rams were quick to recover. With 2:24 left in the second, a close-range Filip Vujadinovic basket gave the Rams their biggest lead of the night, 39-26. Unsurprisingly, with their season on the line, the Badgers made it interesting with a detrimental 9-0 run to end the half. The half ended with a four-point Rams lead, but it was nothing to feel safe about.
“We know basketball is a game of runs. We withstood their run and we just punched back,” said Rams guard Myles Charvis.
In the third, both Ryerson and Brock scored 12 points apiece. Both teams struggled to knock their shots with limited amount of space to utilize on the court (thanks to hard-nosed defence).
It’s clear that defence was the main priority for head coach Roy Rana, shutting down Brock to a dreadful 28.1 field goal percentage, all whilst only allowing just one Badger to reach double-digit scoring. Brock ranked second offensively in OUA play during the regular season. Last time the two teams met, Badgers star Cassidy Ryan dropped 31 points en route to a 80-75 OT win. This time around: two points on 1-12 shooting from the field.
“Lock in defensively and trust each other on offence,” said Charvis summarizing their win.
And the offence kept rolling.
For the fourth time in as many quarters, Ryerson and Brock’s point spread was within 5 points. But there was no shortage of Rams offence. Thanks to a solid offensive effort from team veterans Diressa (19 points), Charvis (15 points) and Vujadinovic (16 points), the Rams were able to comfortably play the final minutes with composure and poise.
“This group has a lot of experience,” said Rana. “We played in a lot of big games and we embrace that opportunity.”
With 17 seconds remaining Brock trailed by six and Ryerson had possession. The Badgers had no choice but to intentionally foul, leading to a couple Diressa free throws. “MVP! MVP! MVP,” screamed Ryerson’s fan corner. It was electrifying, enough to put the game in hand.
But the emotions will be short-lived. As reality sets in, the Rams still have to take down the undefeated Carleton Ravens. Winning 13 of the last 15 national championships, the Ravens’ supremacy is comparable to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.There’s nothing they can’t do; they own the second highest three-point percentage in the OUA while still managing to be a top-three team offensively and defensively.
Despite beating Carleton in the Wilson Cup final last season, Ryerson has already fallen to the Ravens twice this season. Their most daunting task awaits them at the Ravens’ Nest on Saturday night: a game of two OUA powerhouses fighting for the right to be Canada’s most elite.
“Were living up to that legacy we started,” said Charvis. “It’s great to celebrate this moment right now but after today we have to refocus and just get prepared for Carleton.”
The team has clinched a spot in the U Sports Final 8 championships, which will be held in Halifax between March 8 and March 11.