Courtside Seats: Just one playoff spot remains up for grabs after penultimate weekend

Courtside Seats: Just one playoff spot remains up for grabs after penultimate weekend

Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)

The weekend that was can be described with one six-letter word: UPSETS!

Nobody was safe this weekend in the OUA, as several teams pulled off unexpected victories. Some did so to keep their playoff hopes alive, while others locked down their own playoff spot with a win. Even the Nipissing Lakers got in on the action, ending their losing streak and adding some drama to the final weekend of the season with their win over the Toronto Varsity Blues.

The top team in the country fell thanks to a 45-point performance from the best scorer in the nation. Elsewhere, another nationally-ranked team got swept on the road, deflating some of their positive momentum ahead of the postseason. The Queen’s Gaels split their weekend set to continue their recent stretch of strong play that has added some more intrigue to the post-season picture.

Most of the playoff picture has been set, as 11 teams have secured their spot in the second season, but seedings are still up in the air, as is the 12th and final spot in the playoff picture. Here’s what you missed from the week that was in the latest edition of Courtside Seats.

Final playoff spot comes down to Toronto, York

Twelve teams can advance to the postseason in the OUA and heading into the final weekend of the season, 11 of the 12 spots have been filled.

This past weekend saw the West Division playoff picture solidify, but one spot is still up for grabs in the East, and it comes down to the Toronto Varsity Blues and the York Lions.

Both the Varsity Blues and Lions have matching 7-14 records and sit tied for sixth-place in the division with 14 points. Toronto currently holds the tiebreaker over York by way of their 63-58 victory over the Lions from back on January 11th.

In their first meeting of the season, the Varsity Blues went on the road and beat the Lions inside the Tait McKenzie Centre. Toronto overcame a two-point deficit in the final quarter to pick up the five-point victory. Evan Shadkami (Toronto, Ont.) led the way for Toronto with 15 points and six rebounds in the win, while Inaki Alvarez (Altafulla, Spain) added 11 points off the bench.

The Lions were led by Chevon Brown (Toronto, Ont.) who posted a game-high 16 points in the loss. A contingent of three Lions scored 11 points apiece on the night for a balanced scoring effort in defeat.

At the time, the win started a three-game winning for Toronto, and it looked as though they were building confidence ahead of the post-season. Wins over the Queen’s Gaels and Nipissing Lakers had the Varsity Blues at 7-8 on the year and trending in the right direction.

Now, entering the final week of the season, Toronto finds itself slipping at the wrong time. Losers of six straight games, Toronto is searching for any kind of positive momentum ahead of a potential first round matchup with either the Gaels or the Laurentian Voyageurs.

As for the Lions, the loss to Toronto a month ago was part of their own six-game losing streak; one that stretched for the better part of January. Since then, they have two wins over their last four games and are coming off an 11-point win at home over the nationally-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees, 78-67.

Riding the high of their 11-point win on Senior’s Night, the Lions have the confidence heading into the final week of the season, but the road to the playoffs won’t be easy for either team in the final week. Both sides kick off the weekend with playoff-bound opponents before facing arguably their most important opponent of the year – each other.

If both Toronto and York lose (or win) their games on Friday night, they will face off against each other to close out the season with a spot in the playoffs on the line. Certainly, a drama-filled weekend lies ahead for both playoff-hopeful squads, and as basketball fans, we couldn’t ask for anything more than that! We’ll definitely be watching intently, and it’s recommended that you do the same.

Laurentian makes a loud statement with home sweep of Toronto, Ryerson

It’s a tale of two seasons for the Laurentian Voyageurs in the stretch run ahead of the playoffs.

Last year, the Voyageurs limped into the postseason following an injury to Kadre Gray (Toronto, Ont.). A promising 16-2 start quickly faded down the stretch, as Laurentian lost their final five games in the regular season to finish at 16-7 and in fourth-place in the divisional standings, going from a bye to having to host a first-round game.

Fast forward to the 2018-19 stretch run and the Voyageurs have completely flipped the script.

While they still won’t have a first-round bye in the ultra-competitive East Division, Laurentian has hit their stride down the stretch and are taking a six-game winning streak into the final week of the regular season. A slow start to the year is in the rear-view mirror, and the Voyageurs are reaching their potential at the right time.

Laurentian was on their home floor this weekend for their rematches with Toronto and the Ryerson Rams. Back in January, Laurentian split their two games in the Six, picking up a win over the Varsity Blues while dropping their contest to Ryerson. This time around, Laurentian was looking to double-down on the wins and sweep the weekend. And by the final buzzer on Saturday, they did just that, pulling off a pair of statement wins that the rest of the country heard loud and clear.

To kick off the weekend, the Voyageurs took on the Varsity Blues on Friday night. Little did we know at the time of tip-off, but the game would quickly turn into a one-sided affair for the home side. Laurentian took a 31-14 lead over Toronto after the first quarter and were off and running from there. They held the Varsity Blues to just eight points in the third quarter alone and ultimately cruised to the 114-66 victory to push their winning streak to five games at the time.

On both ends of the floor, Laurentian clicked as a team. They shot 61.1% (44-of-72) from the floor on the night and 58.8% (20-of-34) from three-point range. Laurentian racked up 30 assists on their 44 made field goals and committed just nine total turnovers as a team. The Voyageurs made the most of their opportunities on offence and their hot shooting carried them to the 58-point victory.

Without giving too much away, Gray kicked off his stellar weekend by posting 29 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals in the win. JD West (Mildmay, Ont.) went for 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, all from three-point range, off the bench and Gaetan Chamand (Saint-Denis, REU) factored into the starting lineup and posted 11 points.

In total, five different Voyageurs racked up double-digit points in the rout.

Statement one: made.

The next night saw the top-ranked Ryerson Rams bring their talents to Sudbury. Ryerson was looking to complete the season sweep of Laurentian, while the home side was aiming to extend its winning streak to six games by knocking off the top team in the country.

Fans who thought they had tickets to the basketball game on Saturday night were mistaken, as the festivities quickly turned into the Kadre Gray show, leaving fans were more than entertained.

The reigning OUA Player of the Year and U SPORTS Male Student-Athlete of the Year put on a clinic for his home fans, and fans across Canada for that matter. In 38 minutes of action, Gray went off for 45 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals to carry Laurentian to the 88-82 upset win over the Rams, handing them just their second loss of the season in the process.

Gray finished the night shooting 16-of-29 from the floor, 4-of-9 from beyond the arc, and 9-of-10 from the free throw line.

While they came away with the massive victory, it was a tale of two halves for Laurentian on Saturday night. Ryerson took an eight-point lead after the first quarter, and they stretched it to nine before the break, at 42-33. Laurentian managed to cut into the lead in the third quarter, but still trailed by two points ahead of the final frame.

After Ryerson expanded their lead to begin the fourth quarter, Laurentian would eventually overtake the Rams and complete the comeback. With 6:57 to play in the game, Litha Ncanisa (Cape Town, RSA) got a layup to fall to bring the Voyageurs within two points, 69-67. Gray would then hit a three-point jumper on the next Laurentian possession to give the home side a 70-69 lead.

Gray followed his three-ball up with a lay-up at the 5:49 mark to give the Voyageurs a three-point cushion, and they wouldn’t trail the rest of the way.

The Rams were able to tie things up again when JV Mukama (Hamilton, Ont.) hit two free throws with under four minutes left in the game, but the man of the hour once again took over. The tie would last a total of 18 seconds before Gray would get another lay-up to fall to put Laurentian ahead for good. Laurentian would keep the Rams at a safe distance the rest of the way to complete the upset, 88-82.

For the Voyageurs, Haroun Mohamed (Toronto, Ont.) came off the bench and chipped in 12 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. Mohamed and Gray were the only players to record double-digit points for Laurentian in the win.

Myles Charvis (Mississauga, Ont.) led all Ryerson scorers with 19 points and five assists in defeat.

Statement two: made.

Knocking off the top team in the country certainly helps confirm the Voyageurs are a team full of talent and a group that others won’t want to come across in the postseason, which is thanks in large part to the presence of the reigning MVP.

Kadre Gray is a talent unlike any other in the country, let alone the OUA. His ability to put his team on his back and carry them to victory is something you won’t find anywhere else in Canada. Gray’s ability to impact the game on so many levels, whether its scoring, facilitating, or hitting the glass, is something to behold and a pleasure to watch.

Now with a six-game winning streak at their backs, Gray and the Voyageurs are rolling towards the postseason. With just two games left ahead of them in the regular season, they will surely be looking to extend their winning ways and enter the playoffs as arguably the hottest team in the league.

A special thank you to all the graduating seniors across the province for all that you’ve given to your respective teams, the fans, the communities across Ontario, your coaches, teammates, and the OUA over your careers. The memories that you have given fans will never be forgotten, and hopefully you remember the journey as the rest of your careers unfold. Here’s to the next chapter of your journey, wherever that may take you!