HALIFAX, N.S. - The No. 1 ranked Ryerson Rams men's basketball team got all they could handle from the No. 8 Saint Mary's Huskies but the Rams experience guided them through to a 79-70 victory to advance to the U SPORTS national semifinals.
Rams guard Ammanuel Diressa led Ryerson with 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but it was Adika Peter-McNeilly who came up clutch down the stretch.
With the Rams leading by one at 69-68 and just 2:30 remaining, Peter-McNeilly finished off a difficult and-one play and on the next possession drained a three-pointer to give the Rams a 75-68 lead with 1:10 to go. That was all the separation they needed as free throws rounded out the scoring.
Ryerson led from start to finish but had to endure several stretches of game where Saint Mary's, with their hometown crowd behind them, gained momentum and pushed to close the gap.
Neither team shot the ball well in the first quarter, but Ryerson was able to outscore the Huskies 18-10. The lead grew to 12, the Rams largest lead of the game, early in the second quarter until Saint Mary's made their first push. The Huskies outscored the Rams 25-21 in the frame and was able to cut the deficit down to just four with 1:10 to go in the half. The teams exchanged buckets and the four-point spread remained at halftime with the Rams leading 39-35.
The third quarter was evenly matched as the teams traded points back and forth. Ryerson went on an 8-0 run to open up a 50-41 lead with 4:45 to play in the quarter, but the Huskies responded with an 8-0 run of their own to climb back to within one at 50-49 with 3:25 to play.
First-team All-Canadian Peter-McNeilly showed his poise, calmly connecting on a floater in the lane and then hitting two free throws on the next possession to halt the Huskies run and deflate some of the crowd energy. At the end of the quarter, Peter-McNeilly hit a long three ball to lift Ryerson to a 59-53 edge heading to the fourth.
"Sometimes when the crowd's going wild you have a tendency to get over-hyped and do things that you usually don't do but I just maintained that composure. In our game in the opening round last year against UBC it just taught be to be patient and (know that) we're going to get on a run, we just had to weather the storm," said Peter-McNeilly following the game.
The fourth quarter was more of the same as the teams went toe to toe before Peter-McNeilly's late heroics helped seal the 79-70 victory for the Rams.
Ryerson was outrebounded 52-35 in this one and is certainly an area the squad will need to address moving forward.
"If we get pounded on the glass like we did tonight then we'll be out in the next round. I think our guys know that," said head coach Roy Rana following the game. "We were able to rebound in the OUA Final Four and that helped us win games. We got lucky tonight, (Saint Mary’s) really took it to us. We found a way to make big shots down the stretch. I wouldn't say they let it slip away, but we just made the right play at the right time to survive. Survive and advance for us, but we're going to have to be a lot better on Saturday."
Making their third straight appearance at the national championship, the Rams leaned on their veterans to make plays and it paid off.
"Certainly I think it helps to have some veteran guys that have been through it and know what it takes to win and felt what it's like to lose. Experience is huge in these moments and I think it impacted the game today," said Rana.
Peter-McNeilly finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. Saint Mary’s Theon Reefer had a team-high 17 points and added 11 rebounds while Achuil Lual also had a double-double for the Huskies with 14 points and 15 rebounds in the loss.
Ryerson advances to Saturday’s semifinal game at 2:30 ET against the winner of the Alberta-Dalhousie quarter-final.