TORONTO, ON – It turns out that Thursday is just as good as any night for a basketball game at Kerr Hall Gym.
There was no way around it after the Ryerson Rams had held on, but barely, to defeat the visiting Dalhousie Tigers by the score of 71-68.
In the OUA, games are usually scheduled on the Friday and Saturday evenings, but could this change? As ex-Raptors head coach Jay Triano told NPH after the game, because yes, he was attending, “There’s nothing else going on tonight.”
As it turned out, Triano was at Ryerson for a single reason. “I’m a fan of the two coaches,” he said. One of the two, Dalhousie’s John Campbell, had family in attendance: Peter Campbell, his father and head coach of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, was preparing for his Nov. 11 game against the Rams.
Third-year Rams guard Afeworki Gebrekerestos couldn’t believe that Triano was in attendance. “It’s definitely awesome to get this kind of support,” he said. “I did see him at halftime and I was almost starstruck.”
Before halftime, however, the Rams and Tigers played 20 minutes of sloppy basketball. For the most part, Ryerson was never threatened and led by double digits since opening the game on a 15-5 run.
Dalhousie rookie and Toronto native Ritchie Kanza Mata wasn’t pleased with this start. “We came out (and played) sluggish,” he said.
Individually, Kanza said he felt great being back in his hometown. “It felt really good coming back home, playing in front of my people,” he said. The feeling was great, but he’s quick to remind NPH that it would have been better with a win.
His head coach agreed with his young point guard that, “We’re struggling to find any kind of consistency offensively.”
Back to the game, the second quarter didn’t change much, as Ryerson added to its lead and the Tigers’ lethargic play continued. Yet, Dalhousie closed the half on a 12-5 run and seemed the more confident team as the half ended.
There’s one reason, according to Gebrekerestos. “We started off pretty good,” he said, “but I think we got a little bit complacent.”
In the third quarter, the Tigers finally took the lead at 44-43 and suddenly were the ones dictating the play. Ryerson suddenly was in a game and the intensity picked up on both sides, with fourth-year Rams guard Ola Adegboruwa and fourth-year Tigers guard Stephen Lopez each picking up a technical foul. The Tigers then took a 65-59 lead in the fourth quarter, but Ryerson countered with Jordon Gauthier.
Ryerson’s Gauthier picked up right where he left off last season when he made the OUA all-rookie team. As he hit open shot after open shot, Gauthier appeared to be in mid-season form already and hit one of two free throws with 5.7 seconds left and the score at 71-68 to provide the final margin. Ryerson won the game with its defense, in itself something the Rams faithful didn’t see much during last season.
Gebrekerestos told NPH that it was important that the Rams respond well in the fourth quarter and “come together, get stops and execute as best as possible.”
Dalhousie’s Campbell was “disappointed” with the result. He has played and coached in the OUA. “It’s great to be back in Ontario having played and coached in this league,” he said, “but it doesn’t make you feel any better when you lose.”
Tonight, the Rams played without their star player and point guard Jahmal Jones, currently at the Pan Am Games with Team Canada. They were also without injured newcomer Greg Osawe and second-year player Bjorn Michaelsen. Osawe told NPH that it’s tough to watch his teammates play the game when he can’t help on the field. “Support my team and try to help with my words, that’s all I can really do,” he said. “I just try to think positive, our goal is to get better every game.”
Gebrekerestos, for one, is happy with the way his teammates are playing through the injury bug. “In the preseason, this helps us come together as a team,” he said. “It shows that each of our players is important to the team.”
Yet, Dalhousie has also lost many players from last year’s team that went to the CIS Final 8 and most continue to adapt to life without Simon Farine. On Thursday, second-year players Jumol Mullings and Alexander Arthur led the Tigers offensively, but it wasn’t enough. That must change. “We’re the AUS champs right,” Kanza said, “but we’re not playing like it.”
After its third loss in a row, Dalhousie will look to bounce back on Friday when they visit the Toronto Varsity Blues. If not, they finish their Ontario trip the following night against the McMaster Marauders.
Meanwhile, rookie Aaron Best and Gebrekerestos provided help for player of the game Jordon Gauthier. The team will look to build on the win when they welcome the Manitoba Bisons tonight. In a week, Ryerson travels to the United States for a three-game road trip before starting its season at home on Nov. 11 and 12 against Laurier and the Waterloo Warriors.
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Boeckl.