TORONTO — James Derouin's Ottawa Gee-Gees are doing pretty well with this aptitude + attitude = altitude thing, while the Carleton Ravens crew might still be working to reach their ceiling.
Semifinal Friday at the OUA Final Four lost a little juice before either game even tipped off. Lakehead was, as it quickly turned out, up a creek without leading scorer Ryan Thomson, who missed the regional championship for the second year in a row due to injury. Windor lead guard Josh Collins, who had not practised since rolling his ankle on Wednesday, was ruled out for the Lancers and was dearly missed. Ottawa was able to focus more on containing Enrico DiLoreto (16 points) and was able to play more help defence on Lien Phillip (19 points, 10 rebounds), who didn't really heat up until the second half.
"With him, the game definitely would have changed," Ottawa star Warren Ward said. "He’s a big-time player."
That being said, Ward is pretty big-time too and Ottawa looked like it would have beaten a full-strength Lancers squad. Carleton played as well as it had to to beat the Thomson-less Thunderwolves and if you have read this far, you know that's not nearly good enough for their coaching staff's liking,
Granted, the kicker is Ottawa might have an easier role to fill in the ongoing story of this season.
As a friend once explained his decision to join one media outlet instead of another that has higher ratings, "When you're No. 1, you can't hunt, you can only defend." Heading into the third matchup of the season, Ottawa is projecting this us-against-the-world attitude. Carleton still seems in tune with the process, knowing that in Dave Smart's system, it's get to nationals and then peak.
"We’ve got some things to clean up," Phil Scrubb said. "Offensively, we didn’t play very confident. Toward the end we got some good shots and our defence was not bad for 90 per cent of the game.
"We don’t want to have games like that," Scrubb added. "I don’t think we overall got better [Friday] with stuff we’re trying to do. We have to have a bit more energy."
The rub with watching Carleton is that one compares them to past Ravens teams whose reputation and swagger has only grown with time, instead the teams they actually have to play. Scrubb isn't measured against other lead guards; he's measured against Osvaldo Jeanty from the five-in-a-row era. Hinz is held up against former national team forward Aaron Doornekamp. The thing is you can't pour a group into the same mould. Carleton might not have that fifth-year leader with a take-charge personality, which is something it wanted for in 2008 and '10 when it lost the national semifinal to more athletic and physical Acadia and Saskatchewan teams. It does have four legit scoring threats with Hinz, the Scrubbs and Clinton Springer-Williams, who had 10-point, 12-rebound double-double on Friday.
The fifth-years (Dan Penner and Kyle Smendziuk) have a huge role because we couldn’t lead without their support," Hinz said. "There’s followers and leaders. It works both their ways. They’ve done a helluva job because it’s tough being a fifth-year guy and you’ve got a third-year guy (Phil Scrubb) leading the team. They put their ego aside."
Saturday does offer some intrigue. How Lakehead and Windsor regroup without their stars is an open question.
A few scattered thoughts:
— Collins' absence probably hurt Windsor the most when the Lancers were trying to forge a run to get back into it. They did put some full-court pressure on Ottawa's young ballhandlers Mike L'Africain and Mehdi Tihani, but the Gee-Gees were always able to parry before it became a full sea change.
— It's often been reported that Berhanemeskel (21 points Friday, including three fourth-quarter triples) was never recruited by anyone but Ottawa. He did set the record straight, saying he had some interest from other programs in 2010 when he was coming out of Lester B. Pearson, a double-A school in Ottawa.
— Ottawa did well at denying Phillip the ball; if memory serves he had only five shots in the first half. That was where not having to worry about Collins helped.
"We knew Enrico [DiLoreto] was going to come out and be extra aggressive," Berhanemeskel said. "Our game plan was to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible. I thought we did that well."
— The best Warren Ward moment of his 26-point, eight-rebound, six-assist night: Ottawa had a herky-jerky possession in the first half that ended with Ward putting up a contested three with the clock expiring. The Windsor bench called out, "Rebound!" After it went in, Ward leaned toward the Windsor bench: "No rebound."
— Don't read too much into Lakehead's all-star forward Yoosrie Salhia only playing 15 minutes against Carleton. He's not injured. Morrison decided to rest both he and fifth-year guard Greg Carter once it became evident the Thunderwolves would be playing for bronze.
— One solace for Lakehead heading into Saturday is it did have a 38-point second half against the Ravens despite dipping into the bench early. Young forwards such as Joe Nitychoruk and Joe Hart also look like keepers for seasons to come.
— Both Lakehead-Windsor games up in Thunder Bay were relatively low scoring (72-64 and 64-56). It should come down to who can set the tempo. Windsor likes to push it, but there's an element of risk Lakehead might turn to its advantage if they can hassle DiLoreto into forced shots or turnovers.
— Meantime, Salhia and Phillip will be dragging each other up and down the court much of the afternoon. Should be fun to watch.