By Libaan Osman
HALIFAX–The Ryerson Rams punched their ticket to the semifinals of the Final 8, defeating the Alberta Golden Bears 88-62 Thursday night.
Rapid-fire three point shooting and smothering defence was the key to the Rams’ victory, as they forced the Golden Bears to make mistakes throughout the night.
The Rams shot a dazzling 75 per cent in the first quarter, hitting 12 of 16 field goal attempts and stunning the Golden Bears immediately as the teams settled in for their first game of the tournament.
“I’m surprised they shot the ball to that degree coming out of the gate,” said Alberta head coach Barnaby Craddock.
It might seem plausible to assume a team playing in the Final 8 would have opening night jitters, but Ryerson appeared to be in true postseason form. It would be a major understatement to say that the Rams shot the ball well; it’d be more accurate to say ridiculously well.
Ryerson hit more threes (20) against Alberta than they had in any game all season, surpassing their regular season game-high of 16, set during a November matchup against the University of Toronto.
Each of the Rams starters played as a piece of a coherent, complete unit, but Jean-Victor Mukama, the six-foot-eight guard-forward combo, was the man to be reckoned with early on.
After missing the 2017 Final 8, Mukama made sure to make up for lost time, racking up 15 points on 5-7 shooting in the first half alone to push the Rams one step closer to their first-ever national championship.
Even with Ryerson not missing a beat offensively, the Golden Bears were still within striking distance, scoring 11 points off the Rams’ 10 first-half turnovers. At halftime, Ryerson led 46-34.
It’d have been reasonable to believe Ryerson’s hot shooting would cool off in the second, but that wasn’t the case, as the team shot 45.5 per cent from three after halftime. When all was said and done, 60 of Ryerson’s 88 points (68.2 per cent) came from beyond the arc.
“We’ve had some good nights where we shot it well and we’ve had some nights where we haven’t shot it well,” Rams head coach Roy Rana said. “When a team shoots it like this, it (says) a lot about our confidence.”
Ryerson managed to hit more threes in the first six minutes of the game than they did in the entire OUA Wilson Cup finals against Carleton. In that game, an inability to make threes hampered any hope of defeating the Ravens.
Up 13 with 6:45 left in the third, the Rams went on to hold the Golden Bears scoreless for over three minutes to extend their lead to 24 late in the quarter.
Ryerson continued to lay it down on Alberta, extending their lead to a game-high 34 points to eventually send the Bears to early hibernation.
Of course, it’s not a normal Ryerson blowout without star guard Ammanuel Diressa asserting his dominance.
Stuffing the stat sheet, Diressa had 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds, earning him player of the game honours.
“He’s unique,” Rana said. “I’m just thankful I have him on my side.”
With the win, Ryerson will have to take on the top-seeded Carleton Ravens on Saturday.
In their last matchup against the Ravens, the Rams were dismantled, losing 84-58 in the OUA championships.
To defeat Carleton, winners of an unprecedented seven-consecutive national championships, Ryerson will need to continue to shoot the basketball at a high level and avoid making too many mistakes.
If the Rams manage to beat Carleton, it would be an upset for the ages.
UP NEXT: The Rams will take on Carleton in the semifinal on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.