Outside of a packed house at Ottawa’s Montpetit Hall, fans stood with signs looking for tickets. Inside, the nation’s two best basketball programs were lighting it up.
It was the first time the Gee-Gees have hosted cross-city Carleton at their own gym since February 13, 2013. Johnny Berhanemeskel provided them with a show they won’t forget in a long time.
The fifth-year guard led the way for the home side, scoring 21 points and shooting 33% from the field as second-ranked Ottawa managed to hold on and escape with a two-point win over the nation’s top-ranked team.
Led by the play of Berhanemeskel, with support from a double-double by Caleb Agada, and a crushing perimeter game from Matt Plunkett off of the bench, the Gee-Gees looked in good shape to run away with this one as they took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter.
But then, that would mean forgetting about Carleton’s Phil Scrubb. Looking for his fourth Mike Moser Memorial Trophy win in as many years, Scrubb took the game into his own hands in the fourth quarter.
Scrubb ignited his team with a devastating four-point play with just over five minutes to go that closed the gap to seven. With just 17 seconds to go, Scrubb dropped two free-throws which tied the score, and caused Gee-Gees fans to suffer horrific flashbacks of the fall’s Panda Game collapse. He scored 14 points in the quarter alone.
Hero of the day Berhanemeskel nailed the jumper with 4.5 seconds to go, and Thomas Scrubb was unable to hit a runner as time expired, and the Gee-Gees escaped with a two-point victory.
It will be a tough loss to swallow for the Ravens, marking the first time they’ve lost to their rivals in the regular season since 2007. Despite the late heroics by Scrubb, the Ravens have no-one but themselves to blame for a loss that could have been much worse.
Throughout the first three quarters, the Gee-Gees had no problem dominating every aspect of the game. At one point in the third quarter, they were outrebounding the Ravens by 10, revealing the large gap that Tyson Hinz has left in the post for Carleton.
As Carleton collapsed the box to compensate, the Gee-Gees began working it outside to the corner, which is where most of Ottawa’s nine three-pointers fell from.
For Ottawa, they caught themselves relying on Berhanemeskel far too much, which contributed to the near-collapse in the final frame. Looking dog-tired, the game-winning basket were the only points he put up in the quarter. As a team, Ottawa only scored seven points in the fourth.
After the game, Ottawa coach James Derouin spoke highly of Berhanemeskel’s effort.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he is the best player to ever play here,” Derouin told reporters. “His ability to play well in clutch situations is like no other player I have seen here. He wasn't even playing that well tonight and was still able to have the confidence to sink that game winning shot."
“I was just trying to make the best play for our team, and in that moment I was able to get a shot off and it worked out,” Berhanemeskel told reporters. “It means that much more playing them at home this year, and being able to squeeze out a win is good, and it just shows how hard guys have been working.”
For Ravens coach Dave Smart, he spoke of the need to improve to match Ottawa’s talent.
“We’ve got to get better. They’re the best team in the country and it showed for a good portion of the game,” Smart told the Ottawa Citizen. “When you play the best team, you learn a lot of things from it. We’ve got a lot of things to learn, and hopefully, maybe we did.”
The game demonstrated the Ravens biggest concern coming into the game; the glaring gap in the post. They were unable to establish any kind of play in the post and, aside from Thomas Scrubb’s impressive 13 rebounds, were completely overmatched inside.
For the Gee-Gees, who now move to 9-0 and will take the top ranking in the nation, they showed their weakness in relying too heavily on Berhanemeskel. When he was shut down, the whole offense sputtered.
Next weekend, the teams each take a turn hosting 5-3 Guelph and 5-4 Lakehead.