Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)
The long wait is finally over. The 2018-19 OUA basketball season is officially underway, and if the first week is any indication, fans are in for an exciting year.
For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the reigning U SPORTS national champion doesn’t reside in the OUA, and more specifically, the nation’s capital. The Carleton Ravens saw their seven-year title reign come to an end last season, but they came home with a bronze medal when all was said and done. The Ryerson Rams, meanwhile, came oh-so-close to the nation’s top spot, but a late layup from Mambi Diawara put the Calgary Dinos ahead and helped them claim their first title in school history.
After a pair of podium finishes last season, the Ravens and Rams have their sights set on the ultimate prize this year. Fifteen other teams across the OUA will be looking to get themselves to the U SPORTS Final Eight tournament and will be doing whatever they can to halt both Carleton and Ryerson in their tracks.
Through the first week, the usual suspects are atop of the standings. Perennial powerhouse programs flexed their muscle while picking up some convincing wins to kick off their quest for the 2019 OUA Championship, and there were several impact individual performances that stood out among the rest.
Here’s what you may have missed from the first week of OUA action from across the province.
Connor Gilmore is back and he hasn’t missed a beat
After not playing a season ago, some rust was to be expected for McMaster forward Connor Gilmore (Etobicoke, ON), but alas, he picked up right where he left off back in 2016-17.
The Marauders had two home games to open the season and Gilmore was at the forefront of the attack on both nights. The Marauders started the season with a 93-75 win over the Waterloo Warriors in their season opener and followed that up with a convincing win against the Windsor Lancers three nights later, 95-67.
In his first regular season game in more than a year against the Warriors, Gilmore led the way for the Marauders on both ends of the court. Gilmore posted 28 points and 12 rebounds for the double-double, while dishing out four assists to top off a great return inside Burridge Gymnasium. He was 11-of-20 from the field in the win.
Three nights later, Gilmore was at it once again in the Mac’s win over the Lancers. Gilmore went off for another 24 points, seven rebounds, and two assists for a strong encore performance on both ends of the court. Once again, he was highly effective from the floor, shooting 58.3% (7-of-12) from the field.
For the week, Gilmore averaged 26.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game while shooting a combined 18-of-32 (56.3%) from the field, helping the Marauders complete a perfect week to open the season. And with a healthy Gilmore alongside David McCulloch (Hamilton, ON), the Marauders are showing early on that they have one of the top tandems in the conference, if not the country.
Algoma, Lakehead split opening weekend series
Last season, the Lakehead Thunderwolves and the Algoma Thunderbirds finished at the bottom of the OUA West Division standings. Lakehead picked up just two wins over the course of the year, finishing eight points behind Algoma for seventh spot in the divisional standings.
As a result, both teams came into the 2018-19 season looking for a bounce-back year. The Thunderwolves will be looking to get out of the basement in the OUA standings, while Algoma will be shooting to make their way into the playoff picture.
After a pair of games, Lakehead has picked up their first victory of the season and are halfway to matching last year’s win total. The Thunderwolves and Thunderbirds ended up splitting their weekend series to open the season, with Algoma winning the season opener on Friday before Lakehead picked up the win on Saturday to close out the weekend.
In the season opener, Algoma earned the edge by a 71-69 margin. The Thunderbirds had four players score in double-figures on the night, led by Nathan Riley (Kitchener, ON), who recorded the first of back-to-back double-doubles. Riley had 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Jermaine Lyle (Kitchener, ON) led Algoma with 16 points.
Newcomers led the way for Lakehead in game one, as Isaiah Traylor (Tupelo, MS) had 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Kevin Ndahiro (Ottawa, ON) posted 16 points in 21 minutes off the bench.
Game two saw Lakehead use a balanced offensive attack to earn the split. The Thunderwolves rolled to the 90-76 win on Saturday and 11 of the 12 players that saw the court scored in the win. Davarius Wright (Minneapolis, MN) led all scorers with 28 points to go along with six rebounds in the win, while Nick Burke (Hamilton, ON) narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Riley led Algoma with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Last season, Lakehead didn’t pick up their first win of the year until January, but with win number one already under their belts this season, they’re off and running in 2018-19.
Ryerson routs Toronto in the Battle For The 6ix
Whenever in-city rivals take to the court against one another, the atmosphere in the air reaches another level. And when those rivals reside in Toronto, the game becomes a focal point of the basketball community.
Ryerson and Toronto opened the season on Coca-Cola Court in the Battle for the 6ix. Both teams had similar pre-seasons, taking part in Duke’s Canada Tour. While both the Rams and Varsity Blues came out on the losing end of their respective contests against R.J. Barrett and the Blue Devils, the games served as a good measuring stick heading into the new OUA campaign.
The Rams are coming off a silver medal finish at the 2018 U SPORTS Final Eight and they were looking to open the new year with a strong performance to start their path back to the title game. Ryerson put together an impressive first half against the Varsity Blues, holding Toronto to single digits in each of the first two quarters to take a commanding 59-16 lead into the break.
When the dust settled, Ryerson rolled past Toronto to the tune of a 103-51 victory.
As a team, the Rams shot 67.1% (37-of-61) from the floor. They had five players score in double-figures, led by Filip Vujadinovic (Burlington, ON), who recorded 25 points and eight rebounds. Second-year forward Tanor Ngom (Dakar, Senegal) had 10 points and five boards in 26 minutes of court time.
For the Varsity Blues, their offence was stifled all night long. Evan Shadkami (Toronto, ON) picked up 12 points in the loss and was the only player for Toronto to record double-digit points.
It was just one game, but the Rams have the look of a team that is a serious threat to win the OUA Championship, while the Varsity Blues will have question marks to answer after getting doubled up by their cross-town rivals.
Carleton wins round one against Ottawa
Carleton entered the season in some unfamiliar territory, without a national championship hanging from the rafters. The Ravens will be looking to reclaim the title that has been theirs on 14 occasions, and they kicked off the season in just such a fashion against their inter-city rivals.
On the road against Ottawa, the Ravens rolled to the 87-69 win to kick off their season in style. After a dominant preseason – one that saw them win each game they took part in – Carleton continued their winning ways with a convincing decision over the Gee-Gees.
The reloaded Ravens led 46-29 at halftime and never looked back. As a team, Carleton shot an even 50% (33-of-66) from the floor in the win. Four different players scored in double-figures, while six different players notched at least five points. TJ Lall (Cambridge, ON) led all scorers with 31 points on the night, shooting 13-of-18 from the field in the process.
Munis Tutu (Windsor, ON) had a strong performance on both ends of the floor, recording 16 points, three rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
Brandon Robinson (Montreal, Que) led the Gee-Gees with 19 points and five assists, while Calvin Epistola (Toronto, ON) had 13 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.
Carleton welcomed back the bulk of their production from last year’s team and they have a variety of offensive weapons that make them arguably the most dangerous team in all of Canada.