Of course, riding Ammanuel Dirussa's 29-point breakout to an 87-80 home-floor victory against perennial nemesis Ottawa, 24 hours after routing Carleton, simply means Ryerson won the day on Saturday. The Gee-Gees were without wing Caleb Agada (ankle), whose best-case target date to return is the Capital Hoops Classic on Feb. 5. Be that as it may, the team from the heart of the country's hoops hotbed cleared any mental block about beating the country's standard-bearers. Ryerson (12-2, 8-1 OUA East) knocking off Carleton and Ottawa will also weigh heavily into the RPI that the OUA uses for playoff seeding.
"We'll take it any way we can get it because there has been a history of losing to Ottawa in big games here and that was something we wanted to change," said Ryerson interim coach Patrick Tatham, alluding to the Rams' OUA East semifinal losses to Ottawa in 2013 and '14 and the national semifinal loss at home last March. "I think we changed it today.
"We are No. 1, There's no ifs, ands and maybes — we're not cocky, not arrogant in stating that."
The final five minutes included six lead changes, with the Gee-Gees hitting four triples in a row to wipe out a five-point deficit and offset Ryerson's fifth-year post Kadeem Green (10 points, 12 rebounds) denying the post entry to Nathan McCarthy (11 points, but only two in the second half). Gee-Gees forward Vikas Gill hit a top-of-the-key three for an 80-80 tie at the one-minute mark, but the combo of two Dirussa free throws and an Ottawa turnover sealed the result.
The Gee-Gees (19-3, 9-1 OUA North) took it down to final minute without Agada and with point guard Mike L'Africain (14 points, 4-to-4 assists/turnovers) compromised after getting his fourth foul with 4:38 left in the third quarter. Ottawa, down by one at the point, held serve while rookie Calvin Epistola was running the point.
"I am definitely proud of how our guys fought today," Ottawa coach James Derouin said. "When we are down Caleb and down Mike for a long stretch with foul trouble, two tough calls against him and I get a technical. The guys fought hard defensively. We just ran out of gas at the end. We're one weapon short [Agada] and Mike just got beat up. I'm proud of the weekend without Caleb.
"I want my guys them to obsess about this loss because we're probably going to see these guys again at the OUA Final Four, or playoffs," Derouin added. "This is a tough loss. But Caleb's a big part of what we do and we fought hard without him and I'd like to think he's worth more than seven points [the margin in the game]."
Dirussa, a 6-foot-4 guard with length, scored 21 of his 29 in the second half and had a sweet line that included 9-of-16 shooting with four steals, four assists and zero credited turnovers. Aaron Best (16 points, 11 rebounds) joined Green as a fifth-year with a double-double. More importantly, Green led the way in forcing Ottawa out of the post. McCarthy and Brody Maracle, combined, were 8-of-9 for 17 points in the opening 20 minutes. The 'Brathan McCaracle' combo had four points on 0-for-5 after the break.
"Carleton, Ottawa, they have been No. 1, No. 2 since I came here four years ago, With Carleton and Ottawa, we've always been right there," Rams forward Juwan Grannum said. "It was good to knock them off and know 'we got next, we got next.'
"We've never been No. 1 before so we knew we had to do it."
As part of seizing the day, the Rams had the edge in offensive rebounds (16-10) and turnovers (11 to Ottawa's 15), which typically seems to be a winning combo. Their next looming-large game is a midweek matchup against currently No. 4 Brock on Feb. 3.
While Agada's absence has to be taken into account in any post-game analysis, Ottawa did not use it as an out.
"You can already tell everyone's not too thrilled," L'Africain said. "We're going to go back and work a lot harder, It's always fun to get back in the gym after a loss.
"I don't know how to be positive about this, this is not good ... It hurts. This is a team we go really far back with."
Some scattered thoughts on the past two nights at the Court on Carlton St., where the Ryerson fans brought the ruckus for two nights:
- Judging from the crowd reaction, beating Ottawa resonated more with Rams people than defeating Carleton, which of course has 11 of the last 13 CIS championship banners. Score one for living in the now and all rivalries being local. Ottawa was atop the polls and they eliminated the Rams from title contention 10 months ago.
- The battle in the paint turned 180 degrees after the half. Eleven of Ottawa's first 14 points came through 'Brathan McCaracle' — copyright pending — and 6-foot-9 forward Matt Plunkett. Under their own basket, the Rams were able to get inside down the stretch when they needed it. Tatham, who's the head coach while Roy Rana is on sabbatical, also smartly had his team stick with that approach instead of panicking.
"They went to a zone, and we managed to get some passes into the seams," the 31-year-old bench boss said. "It was like a grudge match; the score didn't change for four minutes. Then Kadeem made a hook [after being blocked by Plunkett on the initial shot] and that gave us life."
- L'Africain's third and fourth personals came fewer than 45 seconds apart midway through the third quarter. On the fourth, the initial assumption courtside was that it was on another player.
Derouin earned a technical for arguing the call. Tatham also received a tech. Each time, the opponent made the free throw but didn't score on the ensuing possession, so it cancelled out.
- It's not far-fetched to think Carleton is at risk of missing the Final 8, which will only have three OUA teams.
Carleton is 8-2 in the OUA. All eight wins are against teams that are .500 or worse in the conference. The losses to Ottawa and Ryerson involved losing a late lead at home and losing by almost 20 in a game where they never got closer in the second half than the three-point gap coming out of the break.
Brock has signature wins against Ontario opposition (Ryerson and McMaster). Somewhat similarly, Mac has taken double-digit road wins against York and Queen's.
- Also, if you think the wild card is coming from anywhere but the OUA, you should know the sky is actually blue.
- Back to Carleton ... the ball sticks quite a bit when the Ravens are on offense, and the great looks you could set your watch to for years on end were farther and fewer between against Ottawa and Ryerson.
The only Carleton trademark that turned up in their 79-61 loss against the Rams was offensive rebounding, as they had a 50% retrieval rate on the offensive glass (27 o-boards to Ryerson's 27 defensive). They couldn't make hay from it since they shot an effective 35.6%, with Kaza Kajami-Keane (3-for-13, seven points, 6-to-4 assists/turnovers) having a lot of just-missed driving layups. Typically, in the past the lane would be a little more open since defenders had to respect the draw-and-kick, or the shovel pass to a post scorer. Teams can collapse a bit more on Keane and Connor Wood.
Guillaume Boucard poses a matchup program as a 6-foot-3 guard playing the 4-spot, but on Friday Ryerson's Adam Voll had four blocks. The stat sheet had Boucard down for almost as many turnovers (8) as points (9).
- Carleton's coaching staff and intangibles should make them a tough out by playoff time, but in a bridge year between Phil and Thomas Scrubb's graduation and the maturation of their recruiting classes, they might not have the horses. Lacking a big post presence might finally hurt them.
- That said, anyone copping the attitude that there is some asterisk on this season due to Dave Smart's sabbatical is doing a disservice to Rob Smart, Dean Petridis, the coaching staff and players. It's still their season. Also, it's doubtful Carleton reduced the program's relatively ample budget for this season.