Actually, the man of the early hours, Dalhousie Tigers' Ritchie Kanza Mata, overheard his opposite number, the all-Canadian point guard also in No. 11, the Gee-Gees' Michael L'Africain, exhorting his teammates when third-seeded Ottawa began to fray in the fourth quarter. That was while Dalhousie was blanking Ottawa scoreless for about five critical minutes as it surmounted an eight-point margin and won 87-83.
"There was actually a point, specifically, when we went on a run and Mike — Michael L'Africain — turned to his guys and said, 'we're OK,' " Kanza Mata said. "He had to tell his guys and I knew we could win this game."
The win puts Dalhousie up against Carleton in a David-vs. Goliath 6 p.m. ET semifinal on Saturday.
If one needs a simple narrative for daytime doubleheader, it might be that Carleton can never die; only the serious challengers to Carleton can. Ottawa, whose three-medal run at nationals ended, has played Sisyphus like nobody's business for three seasons. The denouement really seemed to start with a loss at McMaster one week after completing a regular-season sweep of the Ravens, who were starting to slowly regain form. It came to head with a fourth quarter where they had nine turnovers and missed all seven of their triple tries against the Dal pressure defence, which turned over possession 24 times.
Coming into the tournament, as the last Bracketology noted, Ottawa was neck-and-neck with Carleton for best in the tournament in what might be dubbed Effective Shooting Margin. Dalhousie was slightly negative in that crude, this-is-all-we-got metric. It forced them to live on the margins, and Dal seems convinced that being so stress-tested all season is better prep to try to win a three-game tournament. At least Dal-Carleton will offer some different talking points.
"I think we average 76 points and give up 74, at least in regular season," Kanza Mata said. We've been there, we've been through so many big games at crunch time."
Scheduling differences, flawed OUA playoff system hurt Ottawa, but still no excuses
Dalhousie was off for 10 days after winning Atlantic University Sport tournament title, where it had a pair of at-the-wire wins against Saint Mary's and UPEI. Then it knew it would be a No. 6 seed against either Calgary or the OUA wild card, so it could prep for a ghost opponent.
Ottawa dealt with back-to-backs at OUA Final Four, which was last Friday and Saturday. The vagaries of the OUA's RPI-offs, where Ryerson was not punished for a loss to Guelph and thus got the No. 1 seed ahead of Ottawa, meant travel on top of the two games.
C'est la vie. Or c'est le SIC. Those should be factored in before trying to figure out what happened to Ottawa.
L'Africain had a 16-point, seven-assist, zero-turnover day in the face of the Tigers' harrying, but Ottawa still had some bad decisions to lead to the 24 turnovers. They got to the free-throw line once after the break. Their effective FG% also cooled, which was likely due to Dalhousie's play with fresh legs, but also just regular regression.
"We didn't get low enough aggressively," Gee-Gees coach James Derouin said. "That's a credit to how well Dalhousie played. "We didn't handle it like the veteran group that we are.
"I thought we lost our trust together, the defense wasn't where it had been. They were all over Mike."
Ottawa was 80% eFG in the first quarter, then 70.6% in the second. They were at 40.5% for the third, when they took more shots, but used a lot of energy chasing down missed threes. Then came a 42.9% during that 13-point fourth; 6-of-7 inside, 0-of-7 outside.
One bad game? Or, sorry to put this thought in anyone's head, is it possible that a team can only chase Carleton for so long?
Dal also got a five-point swing, covering the winning margin, at the end of the first half. Ottawa stretch-four Matt Plunkett (17 points on 11 shots) had to take an unsporting foul to stop a breakaway layup after a turnover. Off the inbound pass, Dal's Jordan Aquino-Serjue tripled. Instead of being up as much as nine, Ottawa was ahead only two despite a strong shooting start.
One of those things, eh.
The way the Tigers play under Plato makes for a compelling watch. It's not just ball pressure, or having 6-foot-2 Kashrell Lawrence holding down the 5-spot or the intensity, or having a coach who's been at 24 nationals, but will be in his first CIS final four as a head coach. In the era where the three-ball is de rigeur, they don't have much use for it. They also prefer to stay packed tighter than a row of Vancouver condo towers instead of chase long rebounds.
"The story is out about is that we're a tough defensive team," said Kanza Mata, who got his 24 on 70.8% eFG, while speedy sixth man Jarred Reid got most of his 13 on runouts. "You got to play the games.
"It will be tough against Carleton," Kanza Mata added. "We have to limit their three-point shot and play pressure defence."
The this-is-gonna-hurt-awhile for the Gee-Gees is that their window in 2015-16 was supposed to be more open than ever before during the Smart(s) era. They beat Carleton at Carleton, won their first Capital Hoops Classic since 2007, and yet, remain uncrowned after all those seasons as the foil. It's too early to think about it, but they deserve due to re-igniting some interest in the sport. It's just now Ryerson might be the Next One.
That is the void one half of sub-45% shooting can do to a team.
Now Dal gets a stab at Carleton. The Vancouver media got a kick out of Plato bringing up that his first game coaching the Tigers was a non-conference shellacking against the Ravens.
There was a little hitch before "and Ottawa." Plato might have just making sure to observe normal post-game pieties, but in that split-second one could wonder how Ottawa's impact will be remembered now.