TORONTO — Ending a good season with consecutive losses when a CIS Final 8 berth was one win away might be the worst feeling in university basketball.
The Windsor Lancers, left with such a bitter taste 52 weeks ago at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, will likely have to win Saturday's OUA Final Four bronze-medal game to avoid a repeat after losing 84-71 to the No. 1 Carleton Ravens in Friday's early semifinal. Carleton did what Carleton does, getting separation in the first half with a quarter break-bridging 12-2 run and a 10-0 run just before recess. The Lancers got the deficit down to single digits only twice in the second half, but couldn't come back.
Windsor will face McMaster at 4 p.m. Saturday for the bronze medal, with the OUA's second berth on the line. Cross-town rivals Carleton and Ottwa will play in the Wilson Cup for the second season in a row with each already having a tournament ticket in hand.
"We have to put it behind us, we have to refocus on tomorrow, and I don’t think it’s going to be hard," said Lancers fifth-year centre Lien Phillip, whose team lost go-to-nationals games in 2013 to Ottawa and Lakehead after star guard Josh Collins was injured in practice the day before the Final Four. "We understand that we put our best effort forward. We’re looking forward to Saturday. It was good because we know that we can play with [Carleton]. They just made us pay for every mistake.
"Definitely, being here before is something we can apply," said Phillip, who had 12 points and five rebounds. "It has a lot to do with how we respond. We don’t want the same thing to happen again. I think we’ll be ready."
Carleton (30-0 in CIS play) was denied its trademark three-point game, but the Final 8 host turned the Lancers' aggressiveness against it with a characteristic passing display. Phil Scrubb, who's gunning for his third consecutive Moser Trophy, led the way with 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Thomas Scrubb added a 17-8-7 line. Kevin Churchill took advantage of some out-of-sync Windsor rotations to hoop 14. The three-time all-Canadian forward Tyson Hinz added 11 and Victor Raso had 11 off the bench without trying a two-pointer.
"Every team’s capable of beating us," Phil Scrubb said. "We just have to bring more fire, especially on the defensive end."
Dave Smart's main post-game talking point was that Carleton caught a break from Windsor, which shot an effective 35.3 per cent (16-of-51 overall, 4-21 from three) having a cold night. The 13-point margin was Carleton's third-tightest game vs. a Canadian foe this season
"Compared to our past teams, we’re struggling on defence," he said. "The ball is not going where it needs to go. Offensively, we're doing well.
By the time Collins (held to seven on 3-for-11 shooting) and fellow fifth-year guard Enrico Diloreto (17 points) got going, the deficit was insurmountable. The kicker for the Lancers is that it cancelled out Carleton on the boards (37-36 for Ravens) and at the line (going 21-for-26 to the Ravens' 22-for-27). A 28% eFG in the opening 20 was the killer.
"We obviously settled down in the second half," Lancers coach Chris Oliver said. "We played much better offensively. It’s interesting because clearly Carleton makes you pay for every mistake you make. The second half, every time we made a defensive mistake whether it was a missed assignment or defensive rotation, they made us pay. And that’s why they’re so good.
"If you look at pure stats, we did a lot of things that we want to do," added Oliver, whose team got 11 points from Alex Campbell and a 10-point, 13-rebound double-double from Rotomi Osuntola Jr.. "We rebounded with them, we got to the free-throw line and made them, we didn’t turn the ball over [giving it up only eight times]."
The Lancers got within nine near the midpoint of both the third and fourth quarters. Each time, as if everyone had read the script, the Ravens regrouped and stretched the lead. In the fourth, right after a Khalid Abdel-Gabar triple to cut the margin to 72-63 with 5:21 left, Carleton broke down Windsor for a Churchillian layup to get back to a double-digit spread. It was a similar story in the third after the Lancers, otherwise dormant from downtown, cut loose with three consecutive triples to get within nine with 5:06 left. Smart took timeout rather than wait out a possession or two for the media timeout. Following the resumption of play, Thomas Scrubb canned his only triple of the night to spark a mini-run.
"Our coach made some adjustments and it got easier to move the ball better and we made some plays," said Phil Scrubb, whose team had 19 assists against just 10 turnovers.
Windsor's length and collective springiness gave the Ravens some difficulty during the first quarter. The Ravens had some bouts of being static on offence, leading to broken possessions. It pulled away early in the second, however, holding the Lancers without a bucket while Scrubb hooped five points and Clinton Springer-Williams sank a triple during that aforementioned 12-2 run.
Windsor, relying on some well-sprung traps, got back to six later in the quarter. Right on cue, Carleton found Raso for consecutive three-pointers from near identical points along the right wing. Carleton took a 16-point lead into the break, and left the Lancers looking for salvation on Saturday in order to look forward to a happy Selection Sunday. Oliver, whose team last went to the tournament in 2010, is confident of a bounce-back. The fact his team didn't throw in towel might be ominous.
"The first thing we said to our games is it’s a mindset game," Oliver said. "We’ll give ’em the two hours this next game [between McMaster and Ottawa] takes to feel down or get mad at themselves or whatever they want to do. Once that’s over, it’s a mindset to say it’s a new day, it’s a new game and our goals are still ahead of us, to get to nationals.
"We had a lot of challenges last year with Josh being injured the day before and the funk that caused. This team has adjusted really well to different things all year."