Aaron Best: “Canada has talent too.” —Ryerson Loses a Close One to Wake Forest

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NPH TOP PERFORMERS

Wake Forest

  • Travis McKie: 26 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals
  • Codi Miller-McIntyre: 16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists
  • Tyler Cavanaugh: 14 points, 6 rebounds

Ryerson

  • Aaron Best: 26 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
  • Jahmal Jones: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals
  • Bjorn Michaelsen: 12 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block
Aaron Best dropped a game-high 26 points against Wake Forest

Aaron Best dropped a game-high 26 points against Wake Forest

TORONTO, ON–If you can’t win for losing, the Ryerson Rams came as close as they possibly could against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

On Saturday, for the main course in the three-meal dinner that was the Ryerson Hoops Festival, the Rams lost a close game against a worthy opponent in Wake Forest by the score of 88-80.

As a sign that the Ryerson basketball program is on the rise and that expectations are mounting, most Rams players were disappointed in the close loss. Second-year player Aaron Best felt like the team had let one slip away. “Canada has talent, too. I think we could have won,” he said. “The game came down to a few possessions at the end, and they executed a little better than we did. They’re a great team.”

Wake Forest only had good words for its opponents of the weekend, which included a five-point win over Brock University the night before. “Both teams put up a good fight. They didn’t let us walk all over just because we’re in the ACC,” Demon Deacons rookie guard Codi Miller-McIntyre said. “I didn’t think it would be easy, but I didn’t think it would be that hard.”

From the opening tip, it was obvious that nobody would get embarrassed. The Rams hung with the program where, once upon a time, Tim Duncan (i.e. 1997) and Chris Paul (i.e. 2005) once played. There were some little differences between the two teams–Ryerson head coach Roy Rana alluded to Wake Forest’s “overall size”–but the gap never seemed massive.

To proof, the Rams led at halftime by the score of 39-37. It was as good a half as any that the Ryerson crowd could expect from its team. The two teams, then, were just about a mirror image of one another in most categories–shots (12 of 30 for Wake Forest, 13 of 28 for Ryerson) rebounds (16 each) and turnovers (8 each), and so on.

Third-year Wake Forest forward Travis McKie knew what went wrong. “We started off a little slow. It’s way too cold in here for a basketball game,” he said before adding that in the second half he tried to, “Just attack and just stop being passive.”

Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik had another theory. “We have a young team, and they threw a lot at us,” he said, “things that we hadn’t even covered yet.”

The Demon Deacons brought energy, focus and execution for the third quarter, opening on a 13-2 run that was quickly followed by a 13-7 run. Just like that, Wake Forest led 69-55 after 30 minutes of play. The Rams responded, but couldn’t get closer than six points in the fourth quarter–and even then, that happened with only two seconds left to play. McKie, Miller-McIntyre and rookie Cavanaugh made the key plays to keep Ryerson at bay. Rana said that, “(McKie) made good shots down the stretch, and made tough shots down the stretch.”

The past two years haven’t been up to par for head coach Jeff Bzdelik’s Wake Forest team, which is a traditional NCAA power more attuned to March Madness invites than sub-.500 seasons. Bzdelik believes his team can reach the level it attained during the 2009-2010 when it did make the NCAA Tournament.

But this team is young–very young. Against Ryerson, seven rookies dressed up for Bzdelik as well as three sophomores. “I have a young team, he said, “and I just think it’s a great experience for us.”

Miller-McIntyre sees this as both a gift and a curse. He recognizes that it means there will be growing pains, but thinks that there are “no limits” to what they can accomplish.

In the end, the cavalry was in attendance for this first annual Hoops Festival–Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo, head coach Dwane Casey and executive vice-president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski. The event was a success and should do the trick of actually turning this into an annual fixture.

Bryan Colangelo, Ed Stefanski & Dwayne Casey of the Toronto Raptors in attendance at Mattamy Athletic Cente

Bryan Colangelo, Ed Stefanski & Dwayne Casey of the Toronto Raptors in attendance at Mattamy Athletic Cente

“It was a great day…and hopefully it’s something we can do every year,” Rana said. “(The Mattamy Athletic Centre) is a solid mid-major facility now compared to the Central Michigans and the Fordhams.”

Though the Rams weren’t quite as short-handed as the previous night against Cape Breton, they still battled injuries. And just like the previous night, they relied heavily on Best and third-year guard Jahmal Jones. Rana said that, “We have one of the best backcourts in the country, and you could see it. We were playing against an ACC team, and our guards certainly didn’t look out of place.”

Indeed, the two answered the call with a game-high 26 points for the explosive lefty, while Jones poured in 20 and a game-high 8 assists. Otherwise, Bjorn Michaelsen had 12 points and newcomer Yannick Walcott chipped in nine. But that was it.

Miller-McIntyre told NPH after the game that it’s Jones who impressed him the most. “He’s really fast, really quick and a good scorer,” he said.

For Wake Forest, a balanced effort offensively gave the team the win. While McKie led his team with 26 points, a few of the young guys stepped up. Miller-McIntyre had 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds while Cavanaugh had 14 points and sophomore Fischer Chase had 10 points of his own.

It bodes well for Wake Forest’s future that this young team could adjust accordingly, and Bzdelik was pleased. “We responded well. We came out in the third quarter and got organized,” he said.

The roles will be reversed for the two teams next week, as the Rams travel to Detroit next Friday to play against the Detroit Titans. The game is set for tip-off at 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Demon Deacons go back home, away from the Canadian cold both on and off the court. Bzdelik has a singular relationship with the City of Toronto. “I spent 17 years in the NBA, and Toronto was always one of my favourite cities,” said the man who coached, notably, with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. “It’s a great city. It’s a beautiful city–great people, very vibrant and lots of different cultures.”

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