TORONTO, ON—There was a buzz inside the Mattamy Athletic Centre before tip-off between the No. 5-ranked Ryerson Rams and the No. 2-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees.
The speakers were blasting ‘Ante Up,’ that old classic, and the crowd, as large as any this season, was still riding the emotion of that 59-57 Ottawa win in the women’s game. A few minutes later, the men’s game would tip-off with none other than College Basketball Hall of Fame inductee George Raveling in attendance, and with the Wilson Cup trophy well in sight.
The stage was set for OUA East basketball or, as Gee-Gees fourth-year Johnny Berhane calls it, “the Big East of the CIS.”
Once the game started, the Rams pounced on Ottawa. They scored the first six points and opened the game on a 12-3 run. The MAC was rocking.
Only Terry Thomas could answer for Ottawa—literally.
The fourth-year forward, a transfer from the St. Francis Xavier X-Men, scored all of his team’s 13 points in the opening quarter. His teammate Berhane praised him after their 70-63 win. “He was huge!” he said. “He’s a big addition. In the transition he’s probably one of the best players in the country.”
Ryerson head coach Roy Rana echoed Berhanemeskel in complimenting Thomas. “He was an all-Canadian, right? That’s what he brings,” he said. “He’s one of the best athletes in the country.”
The Rams and the Gee-Gees battled to a second quarter draw, each team scoring 17 points behind some great defense and shoddy offense.
If the Gee-Gees are the second best team in the CIS, it’s because they are not the Ravens, but also and mostly because head coach James Derouin has such a potent arsenal of scorers. And in the third quarter, all of them were on display—the missiles from three-point land of point guard Michael L’Africain, the isolation ball of second-year Caleb Agada and the scoring prowess of Berhane, the artist.
“We’re a confident team,” Berhane said. “We knew it was going to happen and we were a couple of shots away from going on a roll.”
Well, the Gee-Gees rolled after halftime. Thomas (who else?) started things off with a basket, but L’Africain (i.e. 9), Agada (i.e. 4) and Berhanemeskel (i.e. 11) combined for the other 24 Ottawa points in the third quarter.
The offensive woes returned in the final 10 minutes of play, both teams combining for only 26 points in the period. With 4:06 left to play, things got chippy between third-year Rams guard Aaron Best and second-year Gee-Gees forward Vikas Gill.
Ottawa had many chances to put the game away and did just that, with two long-range bombs from L’Africain and another from Thomas coming with an 8-point Gee-Gees lead and only a few minutes left to play, but in the end it didn’t matter.
“We weren’t very consistent,” Rana said. “We were up and down, we were tight and we forced it at times.”
Before the final buzzer, and the final score of 70-63 of Ottawa, there was a shot clock malfunction. With about a minute left, the Gee-Gees had the ball up six points—and the buzzer sounded because the shot clock struck inadvertently. The three referees put back 17 seconds, which may have been generous to Ottawa.
Rana chose to downplay the role it might have played on the outcome, saying there were other reasons for it than this mishap. “We forced. We missed some free throws,” Rana said. “It’s a make-or-miss game, and tonight we just didn’t make it.”
Offensively, Thomas led the way for the Gee-Gees with a game-high 23 points and 9 rebounds. Berhane added 20 points and seven rebounds of his own.
For Ryerson, third-year Aaron Best scored a team-high 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. His backcourt partner, fourth-year Jahmal Jones, had 13 points and a game-high six assists, while new Rams Kadeem Green finished with 9 points and 11 rebounds. “We played poorly, and you can’t play poorly against a quality team like Ottawa,” Rana said.
After a four-point loss in Ottawa, and now a seven-point loss in Toronto, the Rams are firmly entrenched behind the Gee-Gees in the OUA East.
Rana thought that the two games have been different this season. “I think we were much better offensively in Ottawa and we had much more of a rhythm,” he said. “Tonight, we were better defensively but we couldn’t get it done offensively. We haven’t been able to put together good games on both ends.”
The Rams aren’t the only ones—with only two losses on the season, no one but the Carleton Ravens have managed to handle the Gee-Gees. Those Ravens are next on the schedule for the Rams.
Tip-off for that contest is set for 8 p.m., also from the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Ottawa, for its part, marches on to the University of Toronto campus to face off against the Varsity Blues. For Berhanemeskel, L’Africain, Thomas and others, it’s just the next step to bring them closer to that Wilson Cup trophy.
NPH TOP PERFORMERS
- Terry Thomas: 23 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
- Johnny Berhanemeskel: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
- Aaron Best: 14 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block
- Jahmal Jones: 13 points, 1 rebound, 6 assists, 2 blocks
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG & NPH @Northpolehoops