ST. CATHARINES, Ont. - Book the flight.
The Ryerson Rams are headed to the OUA Wilson Cup Final in Ottawa and the U SPORTS Final 8 in Halifax after defeating the Brock Badgers 69-63 at Bob Davis Gym on Wednesday night.
Having lost to rival Badgers at the beginning of the season, the landmark victory is a testament to the improvements that the double-title defending Rams have made throughout the season. Long seen as being behind their OUA dynasty pace, the Rams will now seek a third consecutive conference title and another shot at a national championship.
"People may have questioned [us], but we never had any doubt along the way," an elated Borko Popic, Rams assistant coach, said post game. "Sometimes it's not smooth, sometimes there's ups and downs, but our group is still tight and they stick together. We found our stride, and we're rolling."
The first half of the game saw the Rams doing a lot of digging, and the Badgers doing a lot of climbing. Consistently building strong leads early, the Rams would falter defensively and allow late charges by the Badgers to bring the scores in tight. It didn't help that the newly named OUA First Team All-Star Manny Diressa (Toronto, Ont.), who had been injured when the Rams first lost to the Badgers in November, was being consistently and aggressively blocked and forced to the sidelines with aches. However, Diressa would return to the court to put up 19 points, second only to Brock's Dani Elgadi (Waterloo, Ont.) with a game high of 20.
Keeping scoring consistent across the board while doubling down on defence late in the game is what ultimately punched the Rams' ticket to Halifax. While Elgadi posted a game high, the Rams managed to keep consistently strong scoring threats such as Cassidy Ryan (Mississauga, Ont.) largely off the score sheet with furious blocks by Adam Voll (Kitchener, Ont.) and Filip Vujadinovic (Burlington, Ont.). Vujadinovic and Myles Charvis (Mississauga, Ont.) would follow closely behind Diressa in scoring with 16 and 15, respectively, to fight off some unhelpful foul calls and keep enough distance to ensure the Rams came out on top.
Ultimately, the most pressing difference between the teams was the ability to complete their shots. The Badgers were given ample opportunity to outscore the Rams, shooting 64 from the field, but ultimately only sinking 18 of those for a 28.1% average. While the Rams did not have the scoring opportunities that the Badgers did, they managed 22-47 from the field for a 46.8% advantage despite giving up the ball to Brock on several occasions.
Diressa and Voll put up performances reflective of their storied Rams careers, the bruised and battered seniors embodied a 'play for the team' mindset. Staring into the face of their final days in the blue and gold, the Rams leaders have extended their stay into another national championship berth.
"Seasons and careers are on the line each night out," Popic said. "That's what makes these games so special… It's just part of the game at this point. You can't make excuses, you've just got to battle, and we certainly did that tonight.
While a lot of the excitement around the team's victory, including the signs of the Rams fans that made the bus trip to St. Catharines, were centred around the trip to Halifax, the team maintains that there is only one game on their mind after tonight's win.
"Bring it to Carleton!" Popic said. "We play Carleton Saturday. Get ready to watch film tomorrow, both of Carleton and from tonight, and see what we can clean up. It's all the process of us continuing to grow and develop. Our next game is Carleton, we're not thinking about anything past that."
The Ryerson Rams travel to Ottawa on Saturday, March 3rd to face off against the Carleton Ravens in the Ravens' Nest. Not only will the game mark the third matchup between the Rams and Ravens in 2017-2018, it will also be the third consecutive Wilson Cup Final between the two teams and a rematch of last season's Final 8 gold medal game.
Source: Ryerson Rams