Photo by Trevor MacMillan

Rams silence critics, show determination in Final 8 opening dominance

By Christian Ryan

HALIFAX, N.S. - If you can say one thing about the Ryerson Rams, it’s that they show up on a national stage.

Having suffered through injuries all season and feeling its impact on their performance, the team silenced critics in their first matchup of the U SPORTS Final 8. The Rams defeated the Alberta Golden Bears 88-62 Thursday night at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Entering the game as the fifth overall seed behind Alberta in fourth, the Rams knew they were going to have to look to newly-named U SPORTS First-Team All-Canadian Manny Diressa (Toronto, Ont.) to lead the way. Diressa did not disappoint, leading the game in scoring with 25 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. Diressa would see a lot of help from J.V. Mukama (Hamilton, Ont.) with his 21 point performance with nine rebounds and an early and consistent effort from the three.

“It’s great for J.V.,” Rams head coach Roy Rana said in the post-game press conference. “What a great story of resilience. He had some academic issues, took a year off, and stayed with it. A lot of kids would have left, a lot of kids would have decided that they didn’t want to be at this level. He stayed with it. He stuck with it.”

Diressa would be named player of the game alongside Golden Bears’ Brody Clarke (Toronto, Ont.), whose 10 points and strong defensive performance was strongly representative of the style of play that made Alberta one of the top teams in U SPORTS this season. With the win and a trip to the semifinals under his belt, Diressa stood out in game one.

“You can see his talent is unique in our league,” Rana said. “You don't get a lot of guards that can do what he can do… He can do so many special things, at times you want him to kind of round out and settle a little bit, but he can win a game by himself. We haven’t had a lot of players like that.”

The Rams put up points early and often, with Mukama shooting a perfect game from the three throughout the first quarter. A momentary lapse saw the Golden Bears take the lead briefly in the first, but from there it was a scoring showcase for the Rams. Defensively, Adam Voll (Kitchener, Ont.) has always stood out in the OUA. Tonight, the fifth-year senior showed all of Canada what he can do, standing strong in Ryerson’s end of the court and putting up a few three-point efforts of his own.

“Fun game when you shoot the ball like we did tonight,” Rana said. “I think the difference was really our defensive intensity. I thought we were tremendous. The guys really kind of dialled in, our focus was at a real high level, and our confidence was at a real high level. So it was a really good win for our program to get to now our fourth straight Final Four here. It says a lot about these kids and about their commitment.”

The Rams now watch with baited breath as they are followed by a matchup between host Acadia Axemen and OUA champions Carleton Ravens to decide who the Rams will face in the semifinals. Having lost to the Ravens in the 2016-17 gold medal game and 2017-18 OUA finals, a Rams vs. Ravens semifinal would be deeply personal.

The Ryerson Rams face the winner of the final quarter-final in the U SPORTS Final 8 semifinal on Saturday, 5 p.m. ET at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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