By Bryan Meler
When coach Roy Rana comes into the locker room of the Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team, they have a tradition: They start to clap.
It’s exactly what the Rams did to break the silence, says fifth-year Filip Vujadinovic, after losing a nail-biter, falling 67-65 to the Calgary Dinos in the semifinal of the U SPORTS Final 8 tournament on March 9. The loss is especially tough, as it ends the Rams’ run toward their first U SPORTS title in program history.
“There’s not much he could say,” says Vujadinovic. “It was a tough loss, a controversial call. He just said to get ready for the next game, because we need to be professional as always until the last day.”
Fifth-year Myles Charvis remembers much of the same, “Coach came in and let us know that we still have a job to do. Obviously our ultimately goal isn’t attainable anymore, but we still have a Plan B. We need to finish if off with that medal and make sure that this trip was worthwhile.”
The Rams will try to execute their Plan B on the last day of their 2018-19 campaign on March 10, when they take on the host Dalhousie Tigers.
“We need to get ourselves prepared,” said Rana. “We didn’t talk about this game like it being our final game, we got another game to play. We were pretty quick in the locker room.”
Whoever they play, the Rams will be looking to finish their season off strong, forgetting about what happened against the Dinos, who’ve knocked the Rams out of the tournament for the second straight year.
Last year, the Rams lost by two points in the U SPORTS gold medal. It was the same margin of defeat this year, but there’s much more to question. With the Rams down 67-65 with 4.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter, fifth-year guard Jean-Victor Mukama was called for stepping out of bounds.
“I don’t think JV stepped out of bounds,” says fellow fifth-year guard Myles Charvis, who was named Player of the Game for the Rams. “Our bench was really animated, they wouldn’t have done that if he did step out of bounds.”
Just got video of that Mukama play from before, where he was ruled out of bounds with the Rams down 67-65 with under five second to play. Looks like his heel only hovered over the line and never went down. Tough blow for the now U SPORTS bronze medalists pic.twitter.com/LATaHp9IzE
— Bryan Meler (@BryanMeler) March 11, 2019
Because there isn’t an opportunity for replay in U SPORTS, the referees weren’t able to review their call. The Rams would foul the Dinos’ Mambi Diawara, who missed both his free throws. But without any more timeouts, the Rams didn’t have the opportunity to advance the ball, forcing a last second heave from full court with less than two seconds to play.
The ending is especially disappointing after the Rams entered the fourth quarter down by 12 points. They made big play after big play to chip away at the Dinos’ lead, as their shots started to fall for the first time all game, converting on 50 per cent of their attempts in the final frame, including three of their six three-point attempts.
Before the fourth, the Rams didn’t connect on over 30 per cent of their attempts in any of the previous three quarters.
“Honestly, they’re an awesome team, probably the best team we’ve played all year,” says Brett Layton, who notched a team-high 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Dinos. “Their shots weren’t really falling at the beginning…I think we’re lucky to come away with a win with that one.”
The Rams’ fourth quarter resurgence was thanks to their ability to not only start getting their shots to fall, but because they were attacking and kicking out of the paint, says Rana. That led to seven points for both Charvis and Vujadinovic.
“I think we were fortunate to get out of that one,” said Dinos’ head coach Dan Vanhooren. “Based on how we were playing in the fourth quarter on how they were playing. Hats off to them for sure.”
On defence, they were able to execute the entire game, holding the Dinos to 33.8 per cent shooting from the field. That included the Dinos’ backcourt of David Kapinga and Canada West MVP Mambi Diawara, who led Calgary to their first undefeated season in 2018-19.
The Rams held Diawara to 3-17 shooting. Unfortunately for them, he used his tough six-foot-four frame to get to the free-throw line 12 times. In terms of Kapinga, a Canada West all-star, they limited him to 10 points on 4-16 shooting.
Layton hurt the Rams the most early on, entering the fourth quarter already with a double-double, as he bullied Rams’ Tanor Ngom down low. “He’s just a very experienced player…one of the best post players in the country,” said Rana.
But they were able to lock down Layton come the fourth, limiting him to 0-3 shooting from the field, to go along with two free-throw attempts. It was because of their overall team defence, which led to three key blocks.
It just wasn’t enough for the Rams, who ended their run toward the W.P. McGee Trophy. It’s especially tough for a veteran team like the Rams, says Charvis, who have been led by their three co-captains in himself, Mukama and Vujadinovic.
Regardless, they’ll play for third place, a finish that’ll give the men’s team five U SPORTS medals in the past five years, having won silver in the past two, and bronze the two years before that.
“Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way,” says Charvis. “But we need to get ready for that bronze medal game tomorrow, because we want to leave here with some hardware.”
The Rams will take on the Tigers, who fell to the Carleton Ravens in the other semifinal matchup, at 2 p.m. AST/ 1 p.m. EST on March 10.
The Tigers have dominated their Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference, winning four of the past five AUS titles. Before their loss to the Ravens on March 9, they won 12 straight games (including playoffs).
In the past five years, the Rams and Tigers have faced off three times. That includes their 2016 national bronze medal game, which the Rams won.
“Roy Rana is a pretty great coach. They’ve got a great team,” says Tigers coach Rick Plato. “I know they’ll be ready. But we’ll be ready, too.”