HALIFAX- The Ryerson Rams men's basketball team's historic 2011-12 season came to a close on the final day of the CIS Final 8 at the Metro Centre in dramatic fashion, as the men took the Acadia Axemen to overtime before eventually falling 90-83 to the AUS champions in the consolation finals on Sunday.
Owen Klassen led the Axemen with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Aaron Best tallied a game-high 30 points and six boards for the Rams. Jahmal Jones added 20 points, while fifth-year veteran Luke Staniscia grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds in his final game wearing the Ryerson uniform.
The Rams looked to be en route for their second win of the championships, but a fourth quarter surge from Acadia extended the contest, and the men ran out of gas in the last five minutes as the Axemen came out on top in the extra frame.
"We couldn't make a shot in the fourth quarter," said Head Coach Roy Rana. "We had a lot of good looks and the ball would not go in for us. They got a key offensive rebound and foul call at the end that turned the tide. It was one of those games where you could have flipped a coin."
Ryerson got off to a slow start for the third-straight game, as the Axemen jumped out to a 16-7 lead halfway through the opening period. But the Rams had an answer, going on a 12-3 run including a three from Jones (Mississauga) and some strong penetrations from Best as the Scarborough, Ont. native's quickness gave the AUS champions fits throughout the first.
Best was explosive in the period, dropping 15 points, while Shajan Navaratnarajah (Scarborough, Ont.) picked up a tip-in at the first quarter buzzer to put the men up 24-21. Fellow first-year Gavin Berry (Waterloo, Ont.) dropped a shot from beyond the arc to open the next quarter, extending the lead to six.
Jones heated up in the second, sinking a three and notching a running lay-in from just inside the foul line. A jumper from Staniscia (Pefferlaw, Ont.) helped maintain the advantage. However, after having a quiet first quarter, 6'10'' tower Klassen began dominating in the post, picking up five straight points to bring Acadia within striking distance.
Ryerson managed to stay strong defensively in the half, holding the Axemen to a shooting percentage of just 29% through two quarters while forcing 10 Acadia turnovers. For the first time in the tournament, the men enjoyed a lead at the half, going into the locker rooms with a 38-33 lead.
The Axemen sliced the deficit to one on back-to-back possessions early in the second half. However, a long-ranger by Ola Adegboruwa (Toronto) found the basket, and Jones picked up a bucket after a strong rebound by Bjorn Michaelsen right after. The big-man from Otterburn, Que. came up with a tip-in on the next possession, as the Rams took an eight-point lead.
Ryerson forced the issue with Acadia just under the midway point, and the Axemen picked up three consecutive fouls on the same possession. Soon after, the AUS banner-winners turned over the ball again, and the Rams took advantage as Adegboruwa gave Ryerson its first double-digit lead.
However, Acadia continued to persevere, as Anthony Sears came alive with a three-point play to help them keep pace. However, Sears was already in foul trouble at halftime, and picked up his fourth with under two minutes left in the third. Ryerson held a seven-point lead heading into the final quarter.
Best started the fourth with a sweet finger-roll finish after a steal to bring the lead into single-digits, but four quick points from the Axemen had Rana calling timeout to bring a halt to the momentum shift. However, a shot from beyond the arc by Anthony Ashe cut the lead to four coming out of the break.
Sears' game ended at the 3:54 mark, as the third-year guard was called for a charge on Michaelsen, and Ryerson would continue to hang onto a six-point lead despite a surge from Acadia and things drying up offensively.
The Axemen cut the lead to two on another lay-up from Klassen with over a minute to go, and Michaelsen fouled out at the 1:12 mark in the midst of Acadia's streak. After Thomas Filgiano evened the contest with 47 seconds left, Best was money from the foul-line, dropping both his shots to put the Rams up by two with 27.8 on the clock.
But with 3.2 seconds to go, Ashe was put on the line, and knocked down both shots to even the game. With the last possession, Staniscia attempted a fade-away from the base-line that was too heavy, giving way to overtime. The Rams mustered just five points in the fourth quarter.
Acadia took its first lead since the second period by picking up the first points in the extra frame, and they would streak for seven-straight before a clutch three from Best kept the Rams close. Acadia responded as Jonathan Tull drained a bucket from beyond the arc to spread the advantage once again with less than two minutes left. The deficit ended up being too much to overcome for the men, as they finished the weekend with a 1-2 record.
"I can't say enough about our guys for giving all they have for three days in a row (and) coming up with this type of performance on the third day," said Rana. "They just battled and I'm very proud of them. This is not a loss, it's a win in so many ways just to be here and gain this experience.'
A number of strides were made by the Rams this season, setting the foundation for potentially a number of more successful years to come with a young core still intact. Highlights of the men's 11-12 campaign included the sweeping of their downtown rivals, the Toronto Varsity Blues for the first time since 2001-02, as well as placing second in the OUA East which was their best finish since topping the division in the late 90's.
The men's return to the OUA Final Four began magically as the Rams knocked off the defending conference champion Lakehead, who were at the time the CIS No. 2-ranked team in the nation, in front of busloads of fans who made the trip to the University of Waterloo and stormed the court following the triumph.
Although the men lost their CIS quarter-final match to Alberta, the same school that defeated Ryerson in its only other national appearance in the 1999 championships, the Rams rebounded to record the program's first-ever victory at a Final 8 by topping the No. 3 seed Concordia in the consolation semifinals before giving Acadia all it could handle in the fifth-place match.
"(This) gives us some confidence moving into next season that we're capable of playing with the elite teams in the country," said Rana. "But it's a brand new year and we're going to have to start from day one and there's no guarantee that this is going to happen again. But it's a great sign for them to know what it takes. Hopefully we have a great offseason and come back more prepared."