[A]s magical as Ryerson’s run to the final of the Ontario University Athletics men’s basketball championships were, every Cinderella has its hour, and the Rams lost their glass slipper at half-time of their Wilson Cup matchup against the heavily favoured Carleton Ravens.
The Rams have come a long way this season, and appear to be building a strong program for the future, but Saturday’s blowout 82-39 loss to the Ravens in Waterloo shows how far this team still has to go, in order to be considered among the nation’s elite.
Ryerson sent two full busloads of screaming fans decked in blue and gold – short of the reported five or six which went to the game against Lakehead – but what they lacked in numbers, Rams fans made up in lung capacity.
Their maddening vuvuzela-induced energy filled the PAC Gym and drowned out what few Carleton fans were there to fill out the stands.
Early buckets were hard to come by for the Rams, as the teams exchanged nothing but rebounds on the game’s first few possessions.
Jahmal Jones, who finished with a team high 11 points, hit a deep three with a defender in his face to get the Rams on the scoreboard. But the Raven’s stingy defence and smooth passing offense saw them start the game on an 11-3 run.
One of the top players in the nation, Carleton’s Phillip Scrubb, worked to get himself open early and often for easy buckets on his way to 13 points on the night, as the Rams ended the first quarter in a 23-11 hole.
The second quarter began much better for the Rams, as head coach Roy Rana found a defensive strategy to lock-down Scrubb. Bjorn Michaelson played catalyst on defence for the Rams, making two key blocks on the same play, leading to a rarity on the night – a Rams bucket on the fast break.
Altered game-plan in hand, the Rams played the Ravens tightly, nearly matching them basket for basket and miss for miss during the quarter, taking extra points where they could, and steadily clawing at Carleton’s lead.
Down by just nine points at the half, Ryerson’s Director of Basketball Operations Patrick Tatham thought the Rams had a shot at winning the OUA title if they could maintain their play from the second quarter.
However, the Rams simply could not contain all of the Ravens offensive options, as Cole Holbin took over where Scrubb left off, tallying a game high 17 points en route to being named MVP of the game.
Their elite passing system in evidence, any doubts as to who would win were laid to rest midway through the third quarter, as the Ravens opened a 30 point lead, finishing the quarter on a 20-2 scoring run.
The fans though, were not finished. Chants of “We won’t quit! We won’t quit!” rolled off the stands and onto the court, and to their credit the Rams never did. They simply lost to a better ball club.
“They amped it up, and we didn’t answer,” said Tatham after the game. “Our game got away from us and it just snowballed from there.”
Ryerson’s attack seemed aimless in the fourth as the Carleton system wore the Rams down, and allowed the Ravens to stretch their lead over 40 points before the final buzzer.
Afterward, Tatham said, “this game was a very, very good building step for us to prepare for what we need to do in nationals.”
Carleton will raise their seventh OUA Championship banner in 10 seasons, but it is the top two teams from the OUA which advance to Canada’s “March Madness”, so Ryerson will join the Ravens in Halifax for the CIS Final Eight next week.
The Rams will play three tough games in three nights, against a field of the top two teams from each of Canada’s four intercollegiate conferences.
The raucous Rams fans who made the trip to Waterloo’s PAC Gym, counted down the final seconds of play with chants of “Hal-i-fax!” in anticipation of Ryerson’s first CIS appearance in ten years, where the Rams may get a second crack at Carleton, with a national title on the line.