VANCOUVER — Face it, for Carleton the first two at Final 8 are the cocooning process.
Whether it is one Smart on the coaching staff, or two, the first three days before Championship Sunday are just about getting ready to hatch a perfect game. Dave and/or Rob Smart, Dean Petridis, Kevin Churchill — okay, it would be easier to introduce spectators at a conso-side game than the whole Ravens staff — just make sure they are around on Sunday. Then they spread their wings when it matters, usually with a torrent of triples from the wing.
It's presumed the entire CIS knows this, know it's tough to prove, knows it's going to feel like they're saying no one else has shot. It also tough to explain how the team renowned for never taking a play off apportions its creativity and intellect — 99 per cent composed of you-know-what, Einstein — toward having one perfect game. It is just worth bringing up after the way the Ravens' 76-64 semifinal win against the determined Dalhousie Tigers played out on Saturday. It was a slow jam that was only 24-23 at recess, until Carleton picked up the pace.
It is as if Carleton figured out that since the mind tends to work on a last-in basis, and margin of victory is often overemphasized, winning 10 instead of 30 is actually better. Margin of victory at nationals is only debate fodder, and Carleton just wants a shot at Calgary or Ryerson.
"It would definitely be nice to play Ryerson, the team that beat us twice," said guard Connor Wood, who hooped 18 points on 58.3 per cent effective shooting, including nine during a 16-4 okay-we're-done-here run that began after the last tie, at 32-32. "Whoever we play we'll look to play our hardest.
"Everyone feels like when they're going to get the ball and show what they can do," Wood added.
And meantime, buzz phrase among Vancouver media was "defensive struggle." Odd label, that for a game in which two of CIS' best defensive teams had a 52-41 second half.
The throttling-down on offence came once Carleton had waited a Dalhousie adjustment after steering clear of Tigers post Kashrell Lawrence, since they didn't want to give any tips to, say, Ryerson, about how they might test Rams 5-man Kadeem Green. Each is capable, in his unique way, of the big shot block that creates energy and run-out baskets, and Carleton doesn't want that. That was a sole actor in the last third of the opening 20, when Carleton didn't even try to go inside and their only basket during Dalhousie's 13-3 run, more like power walk, was a Gavin Resch triple.
Dalhousie defence's has been talker, but it also defended perhaps even better when it outran and outlasted Ottawa 87-83 in the quarter-final. It doesn't need to be explained that points against isn't even the best metric, does it? Someone, as the members of a running club might put it, just decided it would be a more relaxed 20, pace factor-wise.
"We knew this was how it was going to be, so we just had to dig in," Smart said.
Of course, since Carleton being in the final for the 12th time in 14 seasons, is old hat, Dal staying within 10 became the story. Smart, as genuine a fellow as you will find, filled some voice recorders.
"We saw them last year at nationals and we know what they do," Smart said, alluding to when Dal lost 57-56 to Victoria in the 2015 quarter-final round. "They're East Coast kids and the flow through everything and they play the way we play.
"Lawrence is a hell of a player," Smart added, giving classic Carleton dap to the Dal star who went for 18 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes. "I watched that kid play a lot when I was recruiting Connor [from Regional Elite Development Academy in Hamlton] and love to watch him. He is a tough, tough kid."
It is a long con, meant to create guesswork for the other coaching staffs in the well into the wee hours, between the semis and championship game. Meantime, which staff is the keenest group of film breaker downers, perhaps anywhere in North America?
Plus both games opened up very conveniently. Carleton went from level early in the third on Saturday to up by 17 by early in the fourth, after the designated human adrenalin shot, Mitchell Wood, showed his finesse with a corner three and a bounce pass to Ryan Ejim for a layin on the break.
Similarly, with 11 minutes left against Thompson Rivers, it was a one-point game that ended up 91-75. The WolfPack's lack of depth factored in, but at the same time, Carleton could surely look at how TRU plays their most frequent five-player combo 15-20% of the time, compared to 8-9% for a deeper elite OUA team. And they lay in wait.
Everyone whom Carleton will need to be a X factor got some run. Ejim's 18 was padded out by some late closeouts, including a dunk that opened a 15-point spread with about 1:05 left. Guillaume Boucard had 13 and six rebounds. Point guard Kaza Keane forced fewer shots, making 2-of-3 during a quietly efficient six-point, six-assist day. The law of averages would suggest that Keane might be due on Sunday, whether the opposing one-guard is Ryerson's Manny Diressa or Calgary's David Kapinga.
"Kaza did a great job today of getting into the lane," Smart said.
Calgary or Ryerson could win on Sunday. The point is don't read too, too much into point spreads, since Carleton is so advanced they will try to manage the game to win by a little. It's not even necessarily proprietary, if one looks at how tight Division I games are in bracket touranments.
It's about not showing your hand. It's some game that they run. Don't tell anyone.