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Justin Holmes (Toronto): 22 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist
Afeworki Gebrekerestos (Ryerson): 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
TORONTO, ON – The Toronto Varsity Blues (10-5) bounced back from a disappointing loss last weekend against Queen’s with a thrilling 82-80 overtime win against the surging Ryerson Rams (6-9).
“After Saturday, we were really down on ourselves. We watched a lot of tape and had a team meeting,” said Toronto’s Arun Kumar, a third-year guard, who adds that, “I think we bounced back well.”
Kumar might as well have been talking about himself, as he scored 14 points including two baskets good for the highlight reel. One was a three-point shot as time expired in the third quarter, but it is the first that had people talking after the game.
“It was sort of a side-arm chuck,” Kumar said. A chuck, yes, but from beyond the half-court circle and that beat the first quarter buzzer.
“The stars aligned for him on this one,” simply said Ryerson head coach Roy Rana.
Strong defense dominated the first-half play of these two rivals as Toronto held a narrow 32-28 lead at halftime.
The second half was a different story as the Blues dominated early in the third quarter. Toronto was draining seemingly every shot it took while the Rams were missing baskets from up close; the Blues had taken Ryerson’s raucous homecrowd away and carried all the momentum when it pushed the lead to as many as 16 points.
The Rams players appeared flustered and lost their composure during that Toronto run, which led to some chippy play. After a hard foul at one end, Ryerson forward Jelane Pryce exchanged words with and bumped into Blues forward Sean Nickel.
“Of course. When two rival teams get together, that’s how it’s supposed to be,” said Ryerson rookie Jordon Gauthier.
Fourth-year guard Justin Holmes was especially lethal for Toronto, on his way to a game-high 22 points. Holmes would score 18 of his points from the 3-point line.
Ryerson got back in the game thanks to some inspired play from second-year guard Afeworki Gebrekerestos, who recorded a team-high 15 points on only nine shots taken and in only 20 minutes.
“I just try to stay ready. I haven’t been getting too much (playtime), but I just want to stay ready for whenever Coach needs me,” explained Gebrekerestos.
As is usually the case when two rivals play each other, the game would tighten up again as the Rams started making some shots, took care of the ball and moved to a full court pressure of the ball with a zone defensive strategy.
“It was a zone where they were matching up very high with us. They’re good defenders, they are all small guys who are very quick,” explained Kumar as to why it gave his team problems.
The hometown Rams forced nervous play from Toronto, settled down and chipped away at the lead to finally tie the score at 69 on a three pointer by rookie Jahmal Jones. With only three minutes left to play, this game had the feeling of a playoff game both in the stands and on the court.
From then, the teams would exchange baskets and Ryerson even grabbed its first lead of the night, 74-72, with 22 seconds to play. Fourth-year center Andrew Wasik would then tie the score at 74-74 and an overtime period would be needed.
Closing in on the final moments, the teams were still neck-to-neck until a big three-point basket from Holmes gave the lead to the Blues, 82-80, with only 14 seconds left. Then, a dunk attempt by Ola Adegboruwa could have tied the score, but rimmed out with only 4 seconds left.
“I wished he would taken the lay-up right there, at the end. But, adrenaline takes over…. that’s Ola. He’s aggressive and you don’t want to take that away from him,” said Rana on the key play of the game.
Rams players were visibly drained in post-game interviews, as Gebrekerestos and Gauthier each called the game “a really emotional loss.” Gauthier even added that it “hurt a lot.”
Rana expressed his disappointment and thought that, “Nobody is going to say it was a good loss. But, in many ways it was a positive one.” He was especially proud of the heart and character that his team showed. “We were right there with one of the best teams in the country.”
While Holmes provided the biggest basket of the game in the overtime period, Kumar (14), fourth-year center Andrew Wasik (14) and fifth-year guard Anthony DeGiorgio (13) all also scored in double digits for the Varsity Blues.
The Rams were also balanced offensively, with second-year guard Afeworki Gebrekerestos named the “‘Hero Burger’ Hero of the Game” and Gauthier, Jones, Adegboruwa and fifth-year guard Ryan McNeilly each scoring 14 points.
In order for his teammates to overcome the team’s injury problems (i.e. Bjorn Michaelsen, Khris Montaque and Matthew Lapointe are currently unavailable), Gebrekerestos said that, “Everyone needs to step up and to bring something to the table.”
This weekend would be an ideal time to start as the Rams play host to the Laurentian Voyageurs (6-9) and the York Lions (7-8), both of which are division rivals.
“This is what good teams do. Good teams rebound (after a loss),” said Gauthier.