OUA Wilson Cup: Carleton 82, Ottawa 74; Ravens qualify for CIS Final 8

TORONTO — Carleton played it cool, and Ottawa stayed cold until it was far too late.

Athletically and star power-wise, the Ravens are not in a league with their legendary iterations, but had a characteristically composed championship weekend performance on the Coca-Cola Court with fourth-year shooting guard Connor Wood scoring 18 points (57.7 per cent eFG) and contributing timely late-fourth assists in their 82-74 win against the Gee-Gees in the early-bird OUA Wilson Cup semifinal. That makes Carleton, under interim head coach Rob Smart, the third team in for the CIS Final 8. Meantime, the 'tough to beat a Top 5 team thrice in a row' seems like a ketchup answer for the Gee-Gees, who are flirting with being the best team not at nationals. The crux of it was that fifth-year Michael L'Africain's newfound score-first aggressiveness was turned against him, as the OUA MVP finished 1-for-18 shooting with just five points. Ottawa, which had Caleb Agada hoop 22 (47.6% eFG) with seven rebounds and a game-high five steals across 29 minutes, is mired in a shooting slump that it must correct in Saturday's bronze-medal game.

Carleton never trailed after a 16-0 quarter-bridging first-half run, when Ottawa missed 10 consecutive shots in a portent of a frustrating failure-to-launch evening. Carleton was the first team in the penalty in each quarter, but took a 10-point halftime lead out to 20 and never let Ottawa within single digits until a couple whatthehell window-dressing threes in the final 30 seconds.

What it all means ...

For the Carletons — The Ravens won the day with balanced strength and will play at nationals for the 14th consecutive season, having last missed out in 2002, when there was no at-large berth and the current coaching Smart was a fourth-year guard. A Carleton-Ryerson game on Saturday will essentially be for the No. 1 seed. That is, if anyone wants it, since this is the season when the 'No. 1 with a bullet' cliché is apt.

"We definitely know that Ryerson smacked us," Wood said, alluding to Carleton's blowout defeat against Ryerson in mid-January in the same venue. We weren't happy with that game. And Windsor, we know they would put up a battle – they always do.  

"The improvement has just been building up for the whole year," added Wood, who was one of three Ravens starters that finished with four fouls. "We have just been getting better, and better, each day."

Carleton is an odd amalgam of part. There are the complementary scorers from the Scrubbs era such as Wood and Gavin Resch (16 points on 72.2% eFG Friday) that are adapting to tougher checks. Point guard Kaza Keane and 7-foot centre Cam Smythe (12 points, six rebounds in 22 min.) are learning on the fly. Smart gave eight players at least 18 or more minutes on Friday, with OUA all-rookie pick Stanley Mayambo among those bringing energy.

"It's a totally new group," Smart said. "It feels pretty good to see them beat Ottawa. At this stage of the game they are all good teams. It's good for confidence. From here on, it's nothing but top teams.

"If you've seen us play for the last 10 years, we have our main guys that are featured prominently," Smart added. "This year, we have a very balanced team. It is a mind shift in how you coach the game.

"Even though we have two transfers that we are trying to work in, and a bunch of first-year and second-year players, we have to accept that we need them. A lot of them, it's the attitude that they bring to us. They keep coming." 

For the Ottawas — The Gees' shot at the No. 1 seed is out the window. For the second year in a row, it will have to qualify for nationals by winning the OUA bronze game and receiving the at-large berth. They had a bad 40.1% eFG on Friday (35.3%  from two, 29.7% from three). L'Africain, the last-shot savior last week against Queen's, had one of his poorest games. Nathan McCarthy (14 points on 6-of-10) came out strongly, but Carleton denied him looks at the game unspooled.

"It resets next weekend, anyway." Gee-Gees coach James Derouin said. "We have to start play better

"We started out great," Derouin added. "They made a run and there were missed opportunities. We really fell back. We stopped moving our feet; stopped competing. Then third quarter we gave up a 10-0 run right out of the gate.

"The air went out of the balloon. The crowd got quiet on a neutral floor, and that threw off our energy."

A lesson in hubris — Ottawa checked off bucket-list items in January and early February with a win in the Ravens' Nest and their first Capital Hoops Classic conquest since the first in 2007, nine seasons ago. The latter came while Agada was scratched due to the high ankle sprain he sustained in the last minute of the first running of the city rivalry.

"We came in with our heads and our egos a little too big and they just took advantage of it," said Agada, who kept making plays that teased at an Ottawa comeback. "We went up early and let our egos get big again. We know we can beat them; they know they can beat us. It's 50/50. It's whoever can work the hardest over 40 minutes, or however long the game is.

"We got comfortable and they saw we were vulnerable, and they took advantage," Agada added.

L'Africain looks to bounce back — The Ravens did a job on L'Africain, evoking how they suppressed another fifth-year player-of-the-year honouree, Johnny Berhanemeskel, in the 2015 national final. The Ravens started the game with 6-foot-5 forward Guillaume Boucard on L'Africain, and just inveigled him to take shots.

"Credit their defence," Derouin said. "They started Guillaume on him. Michael's been more aggressive scoring over the last three months and they were more keyed on that. They hard-edged him and locked him in and had two guys on him at all times. He didn't know how to take himself out of that mindset, because he knows he has to score. How do you do that and not force shots? He never got out of that funk. We'll have to do video and show him there are guys open. He's been such a great scorer lately, that now guys are open. And he has to see that.

"Mike's a kid that is as hard on himself as anybody. He's our captain and our fifth-year guy and I expect him to bounce back."

The assists-to-turnovers were a wash, 13-to-15 for Carleton and 14-to-17 for Ottawa.

"He is a hell of a player and has had a hell of a season," Smart said of L'Africain. "I did not think that was to happen. We had talked about making him a high-volume scorer, making him take a lot of shots. You watch enough tape, you realize some will go again. And some will go in if we play them again."

Random variance, thy name might be Ottawa — An uneducated guesstimate is that the outcome was 60/40 Ottawa beating itself. There was always this hint that a run might be coming, but Ottawa never got the back-to-back big buckets that made it happen. The stuck window was jimmied a bit with 3½ minutes left when fifth-year tri-captain Vikas Gill (10 points on five shots in 13 minutes) tripled. Seconds later, Carleton got a run-out; a Wood touch pass created a layup for a 13-point lead. 

"A gambler's logic would say that we are due tomorrow," Derouin said in a bit of gallows humour. "Who knows, maybe we will shoot 75 per cent from the floor."

This 'amalgam' of which you speak Ottawa was the deeper team in January, but to borrow an aphorism of a former editor of this little site, teenagers age. Smart used all 12 players. Mayambo, a Fredericton High School product just like former Ravens marksman Elliot Thompson, didn't blanch at being put into the breach as a true frosh.   

"He works his butt off," Smart said. "It's great to just to see him get in there and be 'fundamental' as we all it and play defence. It's fun to see him do that."

Carleton can never be called an underdog, but from a neutral perspective, it's fun to see it fighting through with fewer weapons. That's why they play the games. 

And Ottawa has to play better, or it might have only one more game.
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