David Tyndale (York): 20 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals
Ryan McNeilly (Ryerson): 21 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals
TORONTO, ON – The York Lions defeated the Ryerson Rams in a close contest by the final score of 74-73 on Saturday night.
While this was the last meeting of the regular season between these teams, fans of either might wish that they go at it again, this time in the playoffs. The Lions and Rams seem evenly matched judging by their two meetings this season: last night’s York win, as well as a narrow 73-72 Ryerson victory at York on Jan. 15.
“This was a good game and a good win for us,” said York leader and third-year guard David Tyndale. “This was kind of like a repeat of the last time we played them when they won at our place.”
With the win, the Lions (8-9) remain tied for third with Ottawa in the OUA East division. The loss, meanwhile, drops the Rams (7-10) to sole possession of fifth place and a one-game lead over sixth-place Laurentian.
“We lost a pretty winnable game, but we’ll take the positives into next weekend and see what we can do then,” explained Ryerson head coach Roy Rana.
York players and coaches preached that finishing third is important. Tyndale said that, “no one wants to play Carleton in the first round of the playoffs.” Also, York head coach Tom Oliveri points out that the York fans haven’t enjoyed a home playoff game in five years. “Our fans deserve it.”
Saturday’s game was a game of two halves, as the Lions shot the ball well in the first period on their way to a three-point lead, 23-20. During the second quarter, York took off with Tyndale scoring 11 of his team-high 20 points.
“(Tyndale) is our leader,” said Oliveri in praising the play of his guard. “We love him. He’s a great young man and we go as David goes.”
At halftime, York led 45-32 and seemed well on their way to victory.
Early in the third quarter, the Lions even pushed their lead to 15 points on a three-point shot from Stefan Haynes. As they have done all season, however, the Rams responded.
Cue the comeback, if you will.
“(The Rams) are a tough team,” said second-year guard Ostap Choliy. “They’re scrappy and never give up.”
Ryerson rookie Jahmal Jones scored two quick lay-ups in the open floor, while the “‘Hero Burger’ Hero of the Game,” fifth-year guard Ryan McNeilly, scored 7 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter.
Trailing by five to enter the final quarter, the Rams would trade baskets with the Lions and even pull to within two with 32 seconds left, 72-70. From then, the contest would turn into a free throw shootout with the plan being clear for York: make your free throws and win.
For the game, the Lions made only 7 of their 17 attempts, with 4 of those misses coming in the last 32 seconds. Luckily, the Rams had an equally poor shooting night from the charity stripe, converting only 12 of 22 and missing 3 in the last minute.
As a result, Ryerson had the ball with 6.5 seconds left and trailed 74-71. A three-pointer would have tied the game, something York was well aware of.
“Yeah we (fouled him) intentionally,” explained Tyndale. “We didn’t want him to get a three-point attempt. We were confident that even if he made one free throw and missed the second, we would get the rebound.”
Ironically, Gebrekerestos made the second free throw as well for the final margin of 74-73 for York.
The game was the fifth for the Rams since Friday, Jan. 21st, and Rana believes fatigue might have played a factor. “I don’t know if we had any gas left in us. It’s been a grind where every game is like a playoff game… It can be mentally and physically draining.”
Still, York’s size advantage was perhaps the biggest of all in this contest.
Due to injuries to Matthew Lapointe and Bjorn Michaelsen, young Eric Hobson is currently Ryerson’s tallest frontcourt player. This means that on any given night, 6’4″ Luke Staniscia plays out of position and is asked to cover taller and stronger guys than he is.
Still, Tyndale said that the Rams might be undersized, but “they never let that stop them.”
When a team like York has starters like strong 6’10” Stefan Haynes and versatile 6’10” Dejan Kravic begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, it is difficult for anybody to match up at full strength. Both recorded double-doubles, and Haynes was especially dominant on the defensive side with 6 blocked shots as well as many more altered. He might have even gotten into Ryerson players’ heads as they missed many lay-ups and shots from up close.
“All year long, we have talked of (Haynes and Kravic) as being our pillars,” explained Oliveri. “It’s our strength.”
After the game, York was blunt in telling NPH of its ultimate team goal. “We want to go to and win the Nationals,” said both Tyndale and Choliy. Tyndale said that the Lions have “the potential to be at that level.”
“All we want is a chance,” said Oliveri. “What’s the expression? A puncher’s chance?”
The first step is next weekend, with two home games against the Ottawa Gee-Gees (8-9) and the Carleton Ravens (17-0).
Should York win those two games, surely they would be deserving of that chance.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG