OUA Wilson Cup: Ryerson likely No. 1 seed after beating Carleton, but Final 8 carries a different energy from the MAC

TORONTO — Aaron Best, Kadeem Green and all of OUA coach of the year Patrick Tatham's Ryerson Rams now have to find their peak on the other side of the Rockies.

An OUA Wilson Cup triumph, especially when it is a school's first, won in front of a raucous home crowd and in the last home game for Rams such as Best (21 points on 53.8% eFG) and Green (eight rebounds, six blocks and countless altered shots) must be savored. Especially when it also involves surmounting a 13-point halftime deficit against No. 1-ranked Carleton Ravens for a 73-68 victory. Feeding off the crowd that smelled blood once Ryerson started creating a Ravens parade into the penalty by using their quickness to get inside and go 20-for-24 from the free-throw line just in the second half, Ryerson got the job done.

"It's big. It's big for the university," said Best, while he had the OUA championship banner draped across his shoulders. "It's big for all of us — all the alumni, all the players who played here. It's a testament to the work everyone put into it. What a way to end it. It's a testament to how far the university has come.

"I think we have about 24 hours — probably less — and then we have to focus in for the next three games. The next three games are going to be even harder."

The Rams will get the No. 1 seed, which Tatham believes might entail facing the host UBC Thunderbirds on Thursday night. An energy team won't have the adrenaline shot it gets on the reg at the Coca-Cola Court. The neutral floor at nationals is something completely different. It's probably also not lost on anyone, one night after Ottawa seemingly showed how daunting it is to defeat well-prepared, no-quit Carleton three times in a season, Ryerson might face the prospect if there is a rematch on Championship Sunday on March 20. Ottawa beat Carleton by two on the road and by six in an arena game. The Rams' 18-point and five-point wins were each at home.

One has to love Ryerson's chances. Although, they can often operate at a deficit on the offensive glass. They were behind 0-16 in second-chance points at halftime Saturday, and won. Any great shooting team is vulnerable if it's a touch off.

Still, playing in the country's best conference, the Rams are 16-1 since Jan. 13 with an average point differential of 17.65. The 96-92 loss to also-ran Guelph on Feb. 17, where veteran forward Juwon Grannum was injured, also came when they were in a hectic stretch of playing four games in seven days due to having a game with city rival U of T moved to the Sunday afternoon of NBA All-Star Weekend.

The other side of the coin, though, is that past-two-months record includes being 11-0 at home, with that neutral floor game against U of T and a 4-1 small sample on the road. That included the Guelph game and a two-point win against improved Queen's. (Of course, Queen's also nearly eliminated Ottawa.)

The Final 8, with neutral floors and sometimes quiet crowds is a different beast. Also, at long last, it is OUA facing a three-hour time change after Canada West dealt with it for 30-plus years.

"Once you get there and practise hard once, it just becomes another gym and you try to makes things routine if you can," said Carleton coach Rob Smart, who would know since the Ravens are going to their 15th in 16 seasons.

Saturday's game was Ryerson's to win and, Carleton being Carleton, the Rams had to win someone else's style of fight. They pulled it off with aplomb, tightening up defensively and going directly at the Ravens on the offensive end. Connor Wood, encumbered by foul trouble, had 20 points in 27 minutes. His only second-half score was a step-back three with 80 seconds left that restored a one-possession game.

"This victory, it's a stepping stone," Green said. "In order to win a championship, we're probably going to have to face Carleton.

"It all comes down to being solid," Green added. "Coming together each end of the floor and trusting the system."

The Rams' resident rim protector pretty much won the weekend. Green had 11 blocked shots across two games, even though his main counterpart on Saturday was the 7-foot post, Cam Smythe. Green has become more consistent thanks to the rapport he enjoys with Tatham, also a power forward.

"Last year I didn't really play with as much as confidence," Green said. "In the summer when I watched tape I realized I wasn't playing my game. Patrick's helped me since he's a player's coach who played my position so he relates to me very well."

The 31-year-old Tatham will have Roy Rana, the program architect who took a sabbatical after a hectic 2014-15 spent organizing the Final 8,  as a fresh set of eyes for the championship.

"It's so surreal — I never expected it would happen this year," Tatham related. "I knew we were on the up and up. I was way too nervous at the start of the year to think that we would make it to the OUA championship game and be the champions. I am so grateful, and so thankful, and in so many ways."

Ryerson was balanced in the win, with Adika Peter-McNeilly putting up a 16-8-5 in the triple-double. Six-foot-eight sixth man Jean-Victor Mukama was more oriented toward disrupting Carleton's rhythm with his length, but shook free of that to score 11 points on just five shots, including a three-pointer as part of a 15-5 run after recess.

When the scoreline changes that abruptly in the second half, observers often presume there was high-level strategic adjustment. Truthfully, there are so many of those going on in every game for all four quarters. Down a baker's dozen at home, Tatham only had to remind the Rams what they could have.,

"There was one speech and one speech only — 'we have got to rebound the ball; if we give them second shots they are going to bury us,' " he said. " I told the guys when we come back up here at the end of the game, you'll either hear 'nice try' and 'you're No. 1.' I think that really resonated and they went out and kicked ass in the second half.

"I put it solely on Kadeem and Aaron — it's your last game here on this court, ever. Go out as winners. It was beautiful to watch."

That is the territorial imperative talking. Ryerson now has new territory to conquer.
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