By Libaan Osman
HALIFAX—The Ryerson Rams came up short in the U Sports men’s basketball championship Sunday night, falling 79-77 to the Calgary Dinos.
A year of preparation for the Rams came down to the last minute of the national championship game against the Calgary Dinos.
Down six with 59 seconds left, Ryerson needed a miracle to keep their gold medal dreams alive. And for a fleeting moment, it appeared they’d received one.
After a pair of free throws by fourth-year forward Fil Vujadinovic and a layup from JV Mukama cut the deficit to two, Calgary’s David Kapinga went to the line at the other end. Kapinga missed a free throw, giving Ryerson a shot at tying the game with less than 10 seconds on the clock.
With their season on the line, the Rams handed the ball to Manny Diressa, the sure-shooting guard who carried the team on his back. With a defender draped all over him, Diressa somehow managed to get a clean shot off from beyond the arc.
Swish. The game was tied at 77.
At that point, the game appeared to be heading to overtime. Unfortunately for the Rams, the Dinos made sure it didn’t get that far. Calgary coach Dan Vanhooren drew up a perfect play, with no timeouts left, allowing Mambi Diawara to waltz into the paint and make the game-winning basket with two seconds left.
“During the timeout, Mambi (Diawara) said ‘Yo give me the ball,” Kapinga said. “‘Give me the ball, we’re winning this game.”
Diawara made good on his promise, and the Dinos stunned the Rams with a 79-77 win to earn their first-ever national championship.
“Throughout this whole process we always talked about it (and) it’s a blessing,” Kapinga said. “Making history, that’s a big deal.”
For the second straight year, Ryerson came up short in the championship game, winning a national silver medal.
Last year, they lost to the Carleton Ravens, the seven-time defending national champs. But on Saturday, the Rams beat the Ravens to ensure that for the first time since 2010, a team other than Carleton would hoist the W.P. McGee Trophy. Unfortunately, that team wasn’t the Rams.
At first, it didn’t even seem like the Rams were going to be within striking distance, as they found themselves down by 12 early in the first half.
However, the Rams would go on a quick 5-0 run to start the third, thanks in large part to the play of Diressa, who’d led the team to victory the night before while dealing with a nagging shoulder injury. The six-foot-four guard proved he was one of the best players in the country by showing up when his team needed him the most, scoring 24 of his team-high 28 points in the second half.
Rams assistant coach Borko Popic couldn’t stop raving post-game about how much Diressa and his other seniors—Roshane Roberts, Adam Voll—meant to Ryerson basketball.
“Those guys are the foundation of our culture and of our team,” Popic said. “Adam has been here five years, Manny and Ro three years, the list will go on. They brought leadership, grit, toughness, camaraderie, we could go on about that.”
Now, Roy Rana and his coaching staff will have to look at some of the younger talent on the roster heading into next season. Players including Zubair Seyed and Tanor Ngom will be looked at as the future of the team and will likely be expected to take the next step in their careers as soon as possible.
Although the Rams couldn’t nab their first championship trophy, the team has now won back-to-back national silver medals after winning bronze in 2015 and 2016.
Before the season began, Rana wasn’t sure where his team would end up. “It’s by no means a given that we’ll get back to [the championship game],” Rana said. “But, we understand that we know that we have to work hard so that we can get back to the OUA championship game, defend our title and hopefully make a run to the nationals.”
The team got just about as close as possible to gold, and now, another year of preparation begins.
Perhaps next time, their miracle will last.