OTTAWA, Ont. - The Ryerson Rams defeated the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees 76-75 in their semifinal matchup on Friday night. Rams' guard Ammanuel Diressa scored 20 points to lead his team to the win, securing the Rams a spot at the OUA championship game on Saturday night. The Gee-Gees were led by the OUA's defensive player of the year in Caleb Agada, who scored 24 in the tough loss.
Ammanuel Diressa of the Rams opened up the game with a coast-to-coast layup over a few Gee-Gees defenders, setting the tone for a fast and physical game. Ottawa's Matthew Plunkett hit back-to-back triples within the first three minutes to give the Gee-Gees an early lead, but the Rams came right back, thanks to Juwon Grannum's seven first quarter points. Plunkett hit his third triple of the opening quarter with under two minutes left to tie up the game at 15, and a couple more successful possessions for the Gee-Gees had them up 18-15 going into the second.
The Rams tied it back up to begin the second quarter, off of a Keevon Small triple under a minute in. Gee-Gees Agada responded with a triple of his own, but Small came right back, hitting his second three in a row, to tie up the game once again. A pair of Agada free-throws on the next possession sparked a 11-2 run for the Gee-Gees, capped off by a jumper by Brody Maracle which gave them a 9-point lead, their largest of the game.
The Rams came back with a run of their own, however, cutting into the lead with a couple triples by Grannum. A three-pointer by Myles Charvis with just 1:32 remaining in the half tied the game up once again, this time at 34, and a pair of split free throws by Charvis had them up by a single point, 35-34, going into the break.
Grannum led all scorers at the break with 13 points, hitting 3 well-timed triples in the opening half to keep the Rams in the game. The Rams swiped 10 steals in the opening half, using the Rams' many turnovers as opportunities to score easy transition points. The Gee-Gees's Agada had 10 by halftime, with his teammate Plunkett failing to score in the second after a 9-point first quarter.
Adika Peter-McNeilly of the Rams began the second half with a triple, but the Gee-Gees were quick to answer on the other end, hitting back-to-back jumpers to regain the lead. The Rams and Gee-Gees proceeded to exchange leads 7 times throughout the third quarter, with neither team able to take control of the game. This back-and-forth stretch saw some great shooting by both sides, but the Gee-Gees were finally able to go on a 6-0 run near the end of the third, gaining some momentum on the Rams. Peter-McNeilly of the Rams hit a triple in the final seconds to cut the Gee-Gees lead, but Agada responded by banking in a three on the other end as the clock ran out, and the Gee-Gees had the upper hand at the end of a crazy third quarter.
Up just 58-53 to start the fourth, the Gee-Gees widened the gap to start with a coast-to-coast layup by Calvin Epistola, but the Rams began their final push. Back-to-back turnovers for the Gee-Gees coincided with some hot three-point shooting for the Rams, and a and-1 layup by Keevon Small cut the Gee-Gees lead to a single point with 6:54 left on the clock. Plunkett found his touch from the first quarter, however, and his back-to-back triples around the 6-minute mark gave the Gee-Gees some room to breathe.
"I was just echoing what our players were saying," said Rams head coach Roy Rana. "Breathe, stay mentally focused, and don't give up."
Caleb Agada hit his fourth triple of the game around the 4-minute mark to push their lead back up to 6, but Keevon Small answered with a triple of his own, and the Rams were still within a possession of the Gee-Gees. A layup by Keevon Small put the Rams within 1 with under two minutes left, and a layup off a sweet spin move by Ammanuel Diressa gave the Rams their first lead of the fourth quarter, with just 1:10 remaining on the clock.
"I just wanted to drive, see what the defence would give me" said Diressa on his go-ahead bucket. "I was patient, I pivoted, he dropped and I finished the layup."
Agada hit a pair of free throws to retake the lead, but Grannum hit a baseline jumper for the Rams to give them their final lead of the game.
"We elected not to take a timeout because we knew what play we wanted to run," said coach Rana. "We got a great look, and great players make great plays."
The final possession of the game saw Brandon Robinson of the Gee-Gees take the ball coast-to-coast with his team down by one, but he was ultimately blocked by Peter-McNeilly at the rim to seal the win for the Rams.
"(Peter-McNeilly) is huge," said Diressa. "He's always making those big plays for us, he's the captain and he is always leading by communication and example. He is always putting his body on the line."
Keevon Small finished with 18 points and 6 steals off the bench, coming alive just when his team needed it the most. Peter-McNeilly struggled from the field with just 7 points on 2-for-9 shooting, but his teammate Grannum picked up some of his slack, ending with 15 points and 6 rebounds.
"We stayed together, we played good D," said Diressa. "We didn't get down on ourselves when we made mistakes, and we willed ourselves to the win."
Agada finished with 5 boards and 5 assists to go with his game-high point total, and was joined in double-digit scoring by teammates Plunkett and Brandon Robinson, who had 15 and 10, respectively. Both teams shot over 40% from deep in this shootout of a game, but the Rams pulled through at the end with some clutch plays to sneak by the Gee-Gees to the championships.
"We had a similar game just a couple weeks ago against Ottawa," said Diressa, explaining his team's calm and collected demeanor during the final minutes of this nail-biter. "We just kept the same mindset and played our game to the win."
Rams head coach Roy Rana said he is proud of his team for competing until the end. "It says alot about their character, about who they are and their mental toughness."
With the win, the Rams will advance to the Wilson Cup finals at 7:00 PM on March 4th, facing the Carleton Ravens in a rematch of last year's championship game. The Gee-Gees will play in the bronze medal game beforehand, taking on the Brock Badgers for a possible spot at the USPORTS national championship tournament in Halifax.