Ryerson Rams Take Down #5-Ranked Lakehead Thunderwolves!

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NPH TOP PERFORMERS

Lakehead

  • Yoosrie Salhia: 21 points, 11 rebounds, 1 steal
  • Brendan King: 12 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
  • Matthew Schmidt: 10 points, 3 rebounds

Ryerson

  • Aaron Best: 19 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
  • Jahmal Jones: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal
  • Bjorn Michaelsen: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal

TORONTO–The Ryerson Rams christened their new Mattamy Athletic Centre with an impressive 69-64 victory over the No. 5-ranked Lakehead Thunderwolves.

The 2012-2013 regular season is a new beginning for the Rams as they take their talents to the facility that was once known as Maple Leafs Garden and now goes by the name of Mattamy Athletic Centre. Yannick Walcott, a transfer from Dalhousie University, loves it. “So far it’s good, I love it,” he said. “The energy is great. It’s a great feeling.”

Against Lakehead, the Rams served notice that the team, which had been on the rise for a couple of years, just might have arrived. Roy Rana, the Ryerson head coach, disagrees of course. “It’s great, but it doesn’t mean a lot,” he said. “We were tough enough to win a game on our home court. It’s important…Hopefully, we can make it a tough place to play.”

For Rana, this win was just that–a win. “It was just a tough, grind-it-out win,” he said.

But early on, the win didn’t seem likely.

Courtesy: Winston Chow

Lakehead, the No. 5 team in the CIS, no doubt wanted to avenge last season’s loss at the OUA Final Four, and jumped to an early 9-2 lead in the first quarter in large part because of sloppy play from the Rams. The Thunderwolves didn’t force anything and simply let Ryerson beat itself. That worked until Ryerson cleaned its act and responded with an 8-0 run to take a 10-9 lead. From there, the two teams went back and forth until it was Lakehead’s turn to unravel just before halftime.

Lakehead is a veteran team that is dependent on its veterans. The Thunderwolves are a good mix of experience and youth but really, the team will go as far as their seniors will take them. But Lakehead has one weakness. “We’re a balanced but if there’s something we’re missing, it’s a go-to guy late in the game,” Morrison said. “We circle every game. We have a bull’s eye on our back just because we’re ranked.”

For the season opener, Yoosrie Salhia did his part, but he needed more help. Ben Johnson and Greg Carter, two fifth-year starters, were inefficient.

The Thunderwolves trailed the Rams 35-25 at halftime. Though the game had been a sluggish contest–which should have favored Lakehead–it was Ryerson that held the lead. Lakehead cut the deficit in half by the end of the third quarter.

There are differences between the two teams, and Morrison says the biggest one is that Lakehead doesn’t have a go-to scorer. “It takes a full team effort for 40 minutes,” Morrison said, “and you really need to execute early in the game. You can’t afford to be needing a bucket late if you don’t have that guy.”

On the other hand, Ryerson has a pair of them in point guard Jahmal Jones and sophomore Aaron Best. The latter, especially, could turn out to be a dominant player very soon. “We expect for him to get better as he’s a year older and he’s working on his game,” Rana said.

It wasn’t until a pair of free throws by Joseph Jones that Lakehead regained the lead at 57-56. From there, both teams went at it hard, and the crowd loved it. The game came down to the final few possessions, and a couple of newcomers for each team made key contributions. Tied at 61 with 90 seconds left to play, Walcott missed a three-point shot for Ryerson but followed his miss and made the layup. For Lakehead, Joe Hart answered with a baseline jumper.

Because Lakehead doesn’t have a clear number one scoring option, execution must be flawless. It wasn’t in the last minute, and it proved to be the difference as Ryerson secured the win with two steals. “Our problem right now is that we’re not disciplined enough to stick to our defensive game plan for the full game,” Morrison said. “We get sloppy, we stop talking, and teams really seem to make us pay.”

Offensively, Best and Jones led the way for the Rams with 19 and 17 points respectively. The two are becoming as good a backcourt as there is in the CIS, which bodes well for the Rams faithful. Third-year forward Bjorn Michaelsen also had 12 points to go along with a team-high 10 rebounds.

Rana praised his counterpart. “We have a huge respect for Lakehead,” he said. “They’re a national powerhouse, and this was a way to see how good we can be.”

Yoosrie led the Thunderwolves offensively, with game-high in points (i.e. 21) and rebounds (i.e. 11). Fifth-year Brendan King and Matthew Schmidt chipped in with 12 and 10 points of their own in the loss.

Morrison praised the new gym as well, though he said that he preferred the old one because his team won the last time they played in Kerr Hall Gym. “It’s a really nice facility,” Morrison said. “I think it’s big for the CIS to have a facility like this and a program like this that is getting a lot of press. We need this in Toronto.”

The season continues on Nov. 8 for both teams. Lakehead will look to rebound against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues while the Ryerson Rams welcome the Guelph Gryphons at their new Mattamy Athletic Centre facility. Both contests are set for 8 p.m.

On the same night that the No. 1-ranked and two-time defending champions Carleton Ravens lost, surely there will be a new team or two in the upcoming CIS rankings. And maybe that team should be Ryerson.

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