By Jack MacCool
The Rams men’s basketball team is headed to the next round of the playoffs after a 29-point performance from rookie sensation Aaron Rhooms in a 92-61 victory on March 16 in front of a packed crowd at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).
Along with his scoring outburst, Rhooms added 11 rebounds in the win. He also shot a blistering 91 per cent from the field, missing just one of his eleven attempts.
The win sets up a quarter-final matchup with the defending national champion Carleton Ravens at the Raven’s Nest in Ottawa.
“Looking out and seeing the bleachers full, it was huge,” said Rhooms. “I love seeing the community come out. It really helps us, I don’t think they even understand how much it helps us.”
It was clear from the opening tip that the playoffs had arrived, as both teams started the game with intensity and jitters. After opening the scoring with a beautiful cutting layup by guard Jaaden Lewis, the Rams struggled to take care of the ball, turning it over several times in the opening minutes.
Through the first five minutes, neither team had been able to establish themselves on the offensive end, battling for each possession. Through six minutes of action both teams scored 10 points combined.
The Rams were in need of momentum as the first quarter wound down, and they got it in the form of Marcus Upshaw. He made an instant impact off the bench, grabbing two steals and assisting on a much needed three pointer from forward Nick Hamilton. After one, the Rams led 11-7.
The second quarter began like the first, with both teams forcing the issue on defence leading to turnovers early. After a three pointer from Laurentian that cut the lead to one, the Rams answered with a three of their own by Mouhamed Ndiaye.
The Rams were rolling midway through the quarter, scrambling on the defensive end and dicing up the Laurentian defence en route to a nine point lead. They capped off by a nifty pull-up jump shot by guard Ankit Choudhary.
Laurentian wasn’t going to go down without a fight however, as they grounded out any basket they could to keep the lead within single digits. Just when it looked like the Voyageurs would make a dent in the lead, the Rams answered with a run of their own, ending in a huge three by Lewis that brought it to 15.
The story of the first half for the Rams was defence, as they held Laurentian to 23 points on just 29.4 per cent shooting. On top of that, the Rams recorded three blocked shots and three steals in the first half, while shooting a scorching 42.1 per cent from beyond the arc.
“I thought today was our best defensive performance,” said head coach David DeAveiro. “If we want to get to where we want to get to, it’s going to be with our defence. Today we did that, and that’s what you’ve got to do to be successful in the playoffs.”
The Rams came out firing in the second half, converting on their first three attempts from the field. Rhooms and Choudhary dominated the Voyageurs early, scoring all six points for the Rams in the opening minutes, enlarging the lead to 20.
With four minutes remaining in the third, the roof of the MAC was blown off when centre Elijah Roye found Rhooms streaking towards the rim for a massive two-handed dunk. Laurentian continued to battle however, stringing together scores to keep the lead hovering around 20. Entering the fourth, the Rams led 61-42.
Laurentian needed something to happen quickly if their season was going to stay alive, and they were going to work hard to get it. They brought the intensity early in the fourth, cutting the lead to 14 after consecutive scores.
Just when things were starting to become stressful for the Rams, Ndiaye and Rhooms answered with a three pointer each to bring the lead back to 18.
At the five minute mark, the Rams rewarded the fans again as Roye and Rhooms found routes to the rim for two more big jams. With five minutes to play, the Rams led 75-55.
Down the stretch the Rams’ talent began to take over as Rhooms, Choudhary, and Ndiaye all made massive plays, continuing the lead which had swelled to 30.
The undefeated Ravens pose a big challenge for the Rams coming off their second consecutive national championship, but DeAveiro is confident his team will be ready in the next round.
“If you’re any kind of competitive athlete, this is the kind of challenge you want. This is where you want to be,” he said. “To be able to go into the defending national champions’ gym as an underdog, these are the games you want to play in.”
UP NEXT: The Rams make the trip to the Raven’s Nest in Ottawa this Saturday for their quarter-final matchup. Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m.