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- Keith Omoerah: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals
- Stephen Walton: 16 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals
- Jordon Gauthier: 24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks
- Luke Staniscia: 10 points, 6 rebounds
TORONTO, ON – By the time the final whistle had been blown and the visiting Manitoba Bisons had beaten the Ryerson Rams by the score of 76-64, it seemed forgotten.
About two hours earlier, the game had been stopped when the fire alarm sounded. The Bisons held a five-point lead with 5:31 left in the first quarter, but the Kerr Hall Gym was emptied. Five firetrucks responded to the call and so did the Toronto highrise unit, yet nothing further came of it. All in all, 20 minutes passed before the game could continue.
That was about the only time of the game that the Bisons stopped running.
“Tough one tonight,” Rams third-year Afeworki Gebrekerestos simply said in the understatement of the preseason.
Manitoba head coach Kirby Schepp told NPH that he saw two teams that were alike on the floor. “These are two similar teams, pretty athletic and guard-orientated,” he said. But there’s one distinction. “Tonight, we had a little bit more depth so we could do a little bit more,” Schepp said.
After the delay, Manitoba created separation from Ryerson in the last five minutes of the first quarter with aggressive defensive play and led 28-20 after 10 minutes of play. The Bisons padded their lead to as much as 15 points, at 37-22, but the Rams responded. At halftime, Ryerson trailed only 45-37 largely because they had drained 14 of 26 shot attempts.
That was the good. If the Rams had taken so few shot attempts-the Bisons had made 18 of 42 shots in comparison-it was because they had turned the ball over 12 times in the first 20 minutes of play. In the second half, the comeback was short-lived as the Rams’ shots stopped falling and Manitoba played better in the third quarter. The Bisons led 61-45 after 30 minutes and responded each Ryerson run with one of their own. The closest the Rams got was 65-54 in the middle of the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t finish the comeback and lost 76-64.
Schepp had an explanation for the way that the game turned out. “They are probably hurting a little more than we’re hurting,” Schepp said, “and that was probably the difference.”
Ah yes, the injuries. That’s probably why Rams head coach Roy Rana said that he was “relieved” when asked how he felt after the game. “It could have been a lot worse,” he said. “I think that we competed right until the end.”
With many injuries to key contributors, Ryerson was in a tough position. In addition to point guard Jahmal Jones, who is still with Team Canada at the Pan Am Games, rookie Greg Kieran, sophomore Bjorn Michaelsen, fourth-year Ola Adegboruwa and newcomer Greg Osawe all didn’t play for the Rams due to injuries. Rana thinks that if there’s one positive, it’s that different players were asked to step up. “It’s frustrating that you don’t have your full roster,” he said, “but at the same time it’s an opportunity for guys to gain game experience and that’s really important.”
Jones’s absence meant that sophomore Jordon Gauthier played point guard. Even for a gifted player like Gauthier, there will be growing pains because he’s only played two games in his CIS career at the position. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Gauthier accounted for 24 points but also six of his team’s 22 turnovers during the game.
Offensively, the Rams went as Gauthier did. He recorded a game-high 24 points while fifth-year Luke Staniscia (10), rookie Shajan Navaratnarajah (8) and sophomore Jelane Pryce also chipped in offensively. Ryerson has now finished its preseason on Canadian soil, but will travel to the United States next week for games against Santa Clara, Stanford and Rhode Island. “I expect that the guys are going to have a lot of fun,” he said, “in a once-in-a-lifetime experience and that we’re going to compete.”
At Kerr Hall Gym, the Bisons were lethal all game in transition and the Rams’ turnovers were too much to overcome. Manitoba newcomer Stephen Walton possesses all-CIS speed, which he showcased as he often beat the Rams defense down the court after a made Ryerson basket. Schepp is the one who explains it best. He said that, “With a kid like Stephen Walton pushing the ball, if you get an athlete like Keith (Omoerah) running the floor, you can do good things.”
However, Walton said that his impact must be bigger than simply as a speedster. “Probably just by being a leader,” he said. The young man from Decatur, Ga., was voted captain in his first year in Manitoba for a reason after all. “I’ve been around basketball a long time,” he said, “so I need to spread my wisdom, I guess.”
After the game, Schepp was happy with the win, but told NPH that his team didn’t come close to having played a perfect game. Not even close, because they didn’t match their goal of scoring at least 100 points every game. “I was a little disappointed with the tempo that we played with,” he said. “I think we can play faster than that.”
Still, Walton impressed on his way to a 16-point game. Third-year Kurtis Sansregret (11), fourth-year Jonar Huertas (9), fourth-year Kevin Oliver and third-year Braedon Speer (7) also each scored at least seven points. But sophomore Keith Omoerah was the most dominant with 19 points. Schepp praised him and said that, “Keith Omoerah is emerging as a star in the CIS.”
Manitoba finishes its Ontario visit with a game against the Toronto Varsity Blues on Saturday. The following week, they open their season with two games at home against the Alberta Golden Bears. Walton said that it’s important that his teammates improve on a few things until then. “It’s early in the season and we’re still learning,” he said. “We need to rebound and play a little bit better defense.”