By Bryan Meler
The Ryerson Rams men’s basketball team captured national bronze at the U SPORTS Final 8 tournament in Halifax on March 10, by beating the Dalhousie Tigers 84-66.
Despite the score, it was a tough win for the Rams, who eventually medalled for the fifth straight year. They came into their bronze medal game less than 24 hours after losing a controversial semifinal against the Calgary Dinos by a mere two points, which ended their run for their first national gold.
“Another medal here is special. We obviously wanted a different colour…It’s something to keep striving for,” said Rams head coach Roy Rana. “But I said to our guys in the locker room before we went out, I’ve been in a lot of bronze medal games… often these games are the ones who define who we are, how you respond to adversity, how you respond to disappointment.”
Coming off the loss on March 9 to the Dinos, it took the Rams a bit of time to get into their groove against the Tigers. That was until Dalhousie’s Jordan Brathwaite decided to step over the Rams’ Myles Charvis.
With just two minutes to go in the first quarter and Ryerson down 14-8, Charvis hit the floor after Brathwaite’s layup. Instead of going around Charvis, Brathwaite stepped over him. The Rams’ point guard reacted by pushing the Tigers’ floor general, as his Ryerson teammates came to back him up.
“I felt it was a little bit disrespectful,” says Charvis. “I think in a sense it did spark us. We went on a run, we started to play with some more intensity on defence. So it was a bad idea by him, because it got us going.”
Brathwaite says that he didn’t mean to be disrespectful and that he was simply just trying to walk away. But, he says, “I can see where they’re coming from.”
To Filip Vujadinovic, who joins Charvis as one of three Rams’ co-captains, he viewed it as “wake-up call” while going against the host team Tigers.
“We came in here, and it was basically like ‘it was [the Tigers’] house’ and we have to get out of here,” said Vujadinovic, who was named Player of the Game. “We were like ‘nah it’s not going to be like that.’ The seniors and I talked about it, and decided to go at them.”
The Rams did just that, starting with Charvis who responded by drilling a pull-up jumper immediately after he and Brathwaite were issued double technicals, as Ryerson went on a 6-0 run to end the first quarter. They didn’t look back.
In the second frame, the Rams converted on 61.5 per cent of their attempts, a drastic improvement compared to the 23.8 per cent shooting they held in the first quarter. During the second frame, Vujadinovic stepped up most, pouring in 10 of his 17 points, as the Rams finished the first half up 40-32.
Throughout the second quarter and half, the Rams pressured the Tigers with their full-court defence, using a high zone. Brathwaite says the Rams used their long wing-players to disrupt the Tigers’ offence.
That was especially the case in the third quarter, with the Tigers shooting a horrid 18.8 per cent from the field, while the Rams even forced the Tigers into a half-court shot-clock violation with the ball in Brathwaite’s hands.
“I think in a sense it did spark us a little bit. We went on a run, we started to play with some more intensity on defence. So it was a bad idea by him, because it got us going”
“It showed our guys’ tenacity. That they weren’t backing down. That they were going to continue to fight,” says Rams assistant coach Borko Popic. “If Myles getting stepped over is the boost we needed, great. I thought we had energy from this morning. From film there was no doubt that guys were hungry.”
Ryerson upped their lead to 18 to end the third quarter and continued to do their damage late, as they went up by as much as 26 points in the fourth quarter. Their lead allowed them to substitute Mukama, Charvis and Vujadinovic with just over two minutes to play, as the three Rams co-captains received a round of applause from Dalhousie’s home crowd as they finished their final games as Rams.
The win also marked the last game for another pair of Rams’ fifth-year players in Yusuf Ali and Nathan Culbreath. “We’re a family,” said Mukama. “These are guys who I’m going to talk to when I’m 30 and have kids.”
Mukama says that with their success, sometimes it’s hard not to not to take it for granted. But he always tries to remember how Ryerson wasn’t once the powerhouse it is today under Rana. Knowing that he helped Ryerson turn around their reputation is something Mukama is grateful for, and kept into consideration as he played for bronze, not gold.
“We didn’t win what we wanted to win, but Ryerson isn’t about just one thing,” says Mukama. “It’s a statement win for whoever is going to be here next year…These wins just push the culture.”
Mukama calls today the beginning of a dynasty, knowing that his team has always fought through arguably the toughest conference in the country, being Ontario University Athletics, in order to get to nationals.
Next year, there will be big shoes to fill. Players such as Keevon Small, who dropped 16 points off the bench in their bronze medal game, and Tanor Ngom, who’ll be looking to improve as an NBA prospect as a seven-foot-two NBA centre, are some of the players who come to mind. But there are also players like Warsame Mohamed, Nikola Urosevic and Jaren Jones, who picked up invaluable experience during the tournament.
“The guys who’ve now experienced this before, it’s going to instill that hunger in them to get that gold medal we haven’t gotten yet,” says Charvis. “We want them to get gold whether we’re here or not.”