One would have anticipated a sizable spread on Friday for the home-court Ryerson Rams, who indeed had an 96-77 win against the game Windsor Lancers in the second OUA Wilson Cup semifinal. That made Ryerson, with Thompson Rivers knocking off CIS Final 8 host UBC 72-69 in the first Canada West semifinal out in Calgary, the fifth team into the nationals. It also sets up a Carleton Ravens-Rams Saturday night fight for the No. 1 seed.
First things first: Ryerson, with post defender nonpareil Kareem Green doing work with 12 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, has shown that loss in Guelph was an anomaly. On to Carleton.
"We want to make history," said Best, who had his own 18-point, 11-rebound double-double with a 59.1 per cent eFG. "We have to go in tomorrow with the same defensive intensity and do something big for our school.
"By no means is tomorrow a pushover game," added Best, whose Rams defeated Carleton 79-61 on Jan. 22, seven weeks ago. "Carleton is not going to take a night off. They're going to come for us, especially after what happened during the season. Definitely, tomorrow, we have to come with the same focus if we want to win again."
It was a good night for the sixth man. The actual super-utility player, Jean-Victor Mukama went off for a game-high 23 on a flawless 5-of-5 night on triples. The figurative sixth man was a story, too.
Five seasons ago, there was about as demand to see the Rams as there was for a Full House reboot. Now they have a full house every night at the second-floor court, which has become a scale model of what you see south of the border. Or, if you need a CIS analog, a small, everyone-knows-everybody eastern school such as Acadia, Cape Breton, St. Francis Xavier or Bishop's back in the '90s during the peak Eddie Pomykala era. Except this isn't in a town of 5,000, it's in the downtown of a city of some 5 million people, where it's so easy to be detached. It's such a diamond in the rough for the city of Toronto.
All that is missing is a banner.
"We've had the OUA Final Four here – twice – in the past and both times we did not play in it," OUA coach of the year Patrick Tatham noted, referring to the '13 and '14 OUA finals. "This year we've got it on our home court, where we are undefeated since 2014. We're going for it. We want to be the first team to bring a banner to Ryerson.
"We've played one game against Carleton this year and we beat 'em pretty badly. So we know there's some sort of revenge in their blood for tomorrow. We're going to continue doing what we're doing, shoot the ball well, transition, play defence."
Anyway, about the way Best and the Rams put away Windsor, which will regroup for a bronze-medal game against Ottawa that is a de facto play-in for the Final 8 wild card. The Lancers hung around for 25 minutes until 'Best mode' was invoked. The fifth-year southpaw shooting guard who is one of the holdovers from program architect Roy Rana's first Final 8 team in 2012, willed and skilled his way to three baskets to spur a quarter-capping 18-4 run.
That surge including Best getting a putback to clean up after Manny Diressa had a hard-luck driving layup try. A Best steal and a driving layup got the lead to nine. Minutes later, Best dunked to bring the house down, and it became evident that the Lancers' caffeine crash was coming quickly.
"Our crowd is amazing – they give us that boost that we need to keep our energy up," Best said. "When the other team goes on a run, they get us back in the game. They are like a sixth man on the floor for us.
"Once we started to win games here, word started to spread. They stick by us. They stick by us.
Ryerson has a shot at an OUA double, with the women's basketball Rams advancing to the Critelli Cup final after downing Windsor 79-62 to make the W-Final 8.
What it all means ....
For the Ryersons — Play Carleton in the Wilson Cup. They won the first matchup by 18 points.
For the Windsors — Face Ottawa in the bronze-medal game.
That Guelph game was a purposeful loss — If Ryerson cuts down the nets in nine days' time, it will be a footnote that it contrived to loss to a non-playoff team, Guelph.
"For our guys, they really get up when they play teams that have a ranked number beside their name," Tatham said. "If it's Carleton with a number one, they get fired up. If it is Brock with a five, our guys are fired up. For Guelph, they were not fired up. They didn't take it seriously enough. They learned that the hard way. We needed the loss before playoffs because we had not loss since November, really. We needed that to shake us up and get us back to what we do well."
I mean, they have guys — The game exhibited how Ryerson boasts two unique X factors rarely seen in CIS, presently. Green was a trump card as a post defender, which would be essential if they have to play Calgary next weekend.
"Kadeem is a luxury for us," Tatham said. In this league, 6-8, 6-9, long, lean, can protect the rim and can step out and shoot. Without him here, it's a different game. We hope we can keep him around for the next four games.
Mukama's PER, presumably, was off the charts. His 23 came on eight shots from the floor. The 6-foot-8 guard, when he was starting, sometimes evinced a tendency to rush things, which would lead to turnovers. He had only one on Friday
"JV brings so much to the table – he can play the one, he can play the two, he can play the three, he can play the four," Tatham said. "His shooting ability, at 6-8, is unheard of. He is a secret weapon for us."
Windsor has another shot — For whatever it is worth (likely not much), Ottawa beat Windsor by 34 points at home in the regular-season game on the last weekend of the first half.
The Lancers had an 11-win streak snapped Friday. Hitting 14 threes made it interesting, but it just seems to be Ryerson's time.
In case you were wondering — Those two Final Four weekends that Ryerson hosted were both in the main venue of the MAC, where it also lost the national semifinal in March 2015 before copping a bronze medal.
The rink is being used for a blind hockey tournament, so it wasn't available. Let's be honest, for a lot of universities, it makes dollars-and-sense to have an arena to tap into the lucrative ice rental market. Because, Canada.
Also, because Canada. If only CIS could have ridden the coattails of the NBA all-star weekend and had the Final 8 at Ryerson again.
The bid process to host a championship is a labyrinth written by lawyers. So it's not clear when the 2016 bid opened. However, the Raptors were given the all-star game on Sept. 30, 2013. About three weeks later, Oct. 18, 2013, Ryerson got the '15 nationals. If only someone had thought to ask, "Could you take it two years in a row?"
Some times it's best to act unilaterally. It would not go over well, but given that Carleton once hosted five times in seven seasons, the precedent has been set.