Photo by Trevor MacMillan

Rams flip script, upset Ravens in national semi

By Christian Ryan

HALIFAX, N.S. - The greatest upset in U SPORTS basketball history was painted in blue and gold.

The Ryerson Rams defeated seven-time defending champions the Carleton Ravens 84-76 in the U SPORTS Final 8 Semi-final Saturday night at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Having won the semi-final, the Rams advance to their second consecutive berth in the national gold medal game.

Ryerson and Carleton have a storied history, with the Rams defeating the most dominant program in U SPORTS basketball history in two consecutive OUA championships, only to fall in the Final 8 title match in 2017 and the 2018 OUA final. In their fourth matchup of the year, the Rams successfully flip the script to knock the Ravens out of the Final 8 and advance to the national championship game - ensuring that a new champion will be crowned in 2018.

“Obviously, to beat a historic program - maybe not just in Canada but throughout the world, what they’ve done is pretty special - to be able to win it in the way that we did, which was just a great game,” Rams head coach Roy Rana said, post-game. “Just grind it out, with two teams playing at a very high level. I think it says a lot about the quality of the game here in Canada and at the U SPORTS level, and the quality of this team.”

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Saturday’s semifinal was a battle of the OUA on a national stage, with the expected grittiness in full display on primetime television through Sportsnet. A bruised and battered Manny Diressa (Toronto, Ont.) fought through heavy, physical blocking to put up a game-high of 28 points and be named player of the game.

“I think everybody can see that Manny Diressa is a pretty special player at this level,” Rana said. “He’s been banged up all year, just like Adam, fought through injuries in this game, fought through injuries this whole season. I think it says a lot about his toughness, but I think it says a lot about the resilience of this group that he steps off of the floor with an injury - our mental focus, our resilience doesn’t change.”

A slow burner of a game, defence ruled early with Adam Voll (Kitchener, Ont.) at the helm, claiming seven rebounds while keeping a hard-charging Ravens squad at bay. Freshman Tanor Ngom (Dakar, Senegal) proved to be a crowd pleaser on his biggest stage to date, putting up two big-time dunks over multiple defenders for his four points of the game. The Rams were able to maintain a lead early, folding slightly in the second quarter forcing a buzzer-beater to tie into halftime before their second half presence carried them home. All told, four of the Rams five starters put up double digits in points en route to claiming the semi-final stunner.

“We know going in, every game’s going to be a battle,” Myles Charvis (Mississauga Ont.) said, post-game. Charvis showed impeccable grit in his 15 point performance. “It’s going to be a hard fought game, there’s going to be punches thrown on both sides, and you’ve just got to continue to withstand those punches and make your own run, because basketball is a game of runs. You just withstand that, play as hard as you can, focus on the game plan, and hope the results are in your favour.”

A group of Ryerson University students made the trip to Halifax, having missed the quarter-final due to snow storms cancelling their flight, and were making their presence known at Scotiabank Centre. Seated adjacent to the Rams bench, the players fed off of an energy that had been missing Thursday against the Alberta Golden Bears.

“We have great fans, and we appreciate them,” Adam Voll said. “There was obviously a little bit less energy on our bench with no fans there, but I think we knew that they were going to be there.”

For Rana, having that group of devotees seated to his right - though their seats remained unused - made an impression.

“It’s always good to see gold,” he said. “For me, it’s always a little bit emotional to see young people travel so far - this is not an easy trip for anyone - to come out and support their fellow students and just be really proud of being Ryerson Rams.”

Not able to rest on the elation of the victory long, the Rams now turn their attention to the Calgary Dinos in the U SPORTS Final 8 national championship game. The Dinos defeated the McGill Redmen 65-43 in their afternoon semi-final to qualify to fight for gold. With the Rams having fallen to the Dinos in overtime this pre-season, it’s anyone’s guess who will return from Halifax with gold hanging from their shoulders.

The Ryerson Rams and Calgary Dinos face off Sunday, March 12th at 5 p.m. ET at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the U SPORTS Final 8 national championship final. Rams fans can tune in to the game on Sportsnet 360 or Sportsnet NOW.

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