TORONTO — The best part was how one didn't see it coming, thought maybe Johnny Berhanemeskel and Terry Thomas and the Ottawa Gee-Gees had let Carleton get away again.
Someone with a more mathematical bent might have to figure what the odds are that a Carleton Ravens team would ever cough up a 10-point lead with 3½ minutes to play. Yet it happened, since these Gees close out opponents' possessions better than any garnet-and-grey gang in recent memory and also finish with flair. Score, get a stop, score and get a stop — "to be honest, it's all a blur" — coach James Derouin said — and suddenly Ottawa had a chance to win, down one with 6.8 seconds left.
That's when, fittingly, Berhanemeskel, making up for an air-balled three a minute earlier, put up the fadeaway while being fouled, over Clinton Springer-Williams, with 0.5 seconds left. That gave Ottawa not only the Wilson Cup, but its first win over the colossus that is Carleton since 2007.
"They switched the ball screens and he still got it up over three people on the fadeaway," said Ottawa coach James Derouin, whose team is 36-2 in CIS play this season, with both losses against you-know-who. "Johnny's an incredible kid, he's an incredible player. There's no better guy to hit that shot.
"Some of these guys have played four years here and never beat 'em, You can imagine what that is like in Ottawa. 'How did you against Carleton?' 'We're 32-3.' 'But how did you do against Carleton?' For these guys, it's pretty special to tell them we beat 'em in an OUA final."
Berhanemeskel finished with 30 points on 13-of-28 shooting. Terry Thomas chipped in 17 and nine rebounds for Ottawa, while glue guy extraordinaire Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue's 12 points including two tough buckets during the game-ending 13-2 run. Tyson Hinz had a 25-point, 10-rebound double-double for Carleton (30-1 in CIS play). THomas Scrubb hadded 21, while Philip Scrubb, facing a rotating cast of defenders such as Caleb Agada and Mehdi Tihani, had 13 points on a 3-of-12 night and six turnovers
Ottawa, which lost by more than 20 in both regular season games vs. Carleton, talked about merely wanting to give the Ravens their best game. They've said that so many times and been unable to summon it, yet on Saturday, albeit by the slimmest margin, they rose to the level demanded of a team that shares a city with a
"It's honestly one of the biggest motivators you can have, it makes you wake up every day wanting to watch tape, wanting to get in the gym, wanting to lift weights," Berhanemeskel said. "Obviously we would have wanted to win games against them earlier, but I wouldn't change the last four years for anything. It's made me the person I am today and made our team what it is today. Our culture is definitely evolving.
"We didn't want to lose the game just because of a couple missed shots or some foul calls.
Carleton lost the Wilson Cup in 2007 and '11 after its Final 8 ticket was already purchased, so who knows what this will mean. Ottawa has the OUA banner but Carleton took the season series 2-1 with a plus-44 point differential. But the wins were on Nov. 29 and Jan. 22, not on March 1.
"That was a wake-up call [against Lakehead in 2011], this one, I think it is what it is," said Smart, whose program is 129-3 vs. CIS teams during the Scrubb era. "They're a good team, they're better than us.
"The seeds are the seeds," Smart added. "They just beat us, so if they get the No. 1 seed, it's not going to upset me. We have the body of work — maybe — but if you put either one of us No. 1, I don't think it's going to upset either one of us. I think they're a great team. They're awesome."
Carleton was out in front from the mid-second quarter onward, save for a brief spurt in the third when Ottawa took a 46-45 edge that lasted all of one possession. The Ravens shot an effective 50 per cent for the night (25-for-59, including 9-for-21 on threes), but Ottawa's ball movement (a mere nine turnovers) and acumen with earning extra shots kept it in contact. Nevertheless, some open looks that wouldn't go down created the impression Ottawa might have to be satisfied with merely having played well without getting the result.
"You just keep trying to forget the losses, whether it was 12 or 13 in a row," Derouin said. "I just didn't feel like we played well the last two times that we played. I thought we were competing all game today and it went back and forth and we had a shot to win it at the end."
A Gee-Gees team often believed to be leaky defensively because its high pace factor often means it plays in the 80s also turned up the pressure in the fourth, with Gonthier-Dubue and Agada closing off lanes. Carleton scored only once in the final four minutes, on a hard drive by Hinz with 6.8 seconds left. That was when Ottawa showed if a team gets enough chances, eventually it will make good on one.
"Experience is the best teacher," said Berhanemeskel, the fourth-year shooting guard and grad of Lester B. Pearson in Gloucester. "The guys who have got us here, [former star] Warren [Ward], the fans and family who have got us here, we're here because of them and we're sharing this moment from them, from the beginning.
"It's just indescribable right now. All I can do is just laugh and get ready to play next weekend and share the moment with these guys."
Right, there is still the Final 8. It was almost easy to overlook that while seeing Ottawa cut down the nets at Mattamy Athletic Centre.