VANCOUVER (CIS) – The Carleton Ravens kept their drive for a sixth straight CIS men's basketball championship alive, weathering a defensive slugfest with the Dalhousie Tigers in the semifinals of the 2016 ArcelorMittal Dofasco CIS Men's Basketball Final 8 on Saturday.
The No. 2-seeded Ravens prevailed 76-66 in a rugged tilt at UBC's Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, and will face the winner of Saturday's late semifinal between the No. 1 Ryerson Rams and the No. 4 Calgary Dinos in Sunday's title game.
Carleton, winners of 11 of the past 13 CIS championships, held a slim 24-23 lead at halftime as its vaunted offence struggled to get on track against a determined No. 6-seeded Dalhousie squad seeking its first trip to the national final.
But the Ravens' top-ranked defence held them in long enough for the offence to break through, and they pulled away in the second half for the double-digit win.
Afterward, Carleton head coach Rob Smart said he wasn't surprised by the game's gritty defensive texture.
"We talked about it (before the game), but you just can't believe that a national semifinal's going to be that score at halftime, that ugly," he said with a wry chuckle. "But we knew this was what it was going to be, so we're going to have to dig in and get a comfort level. I think we did a good job of just continuing to keep at it, keep coming.
"Eventually, we got some opportunities to get out and go."
The Ravens scored the first six points of the game, and their defence was dialed in from the opening tip – they forced the Tigers into four missed shots and four turnovers before Jordan Aquino-Serjue's acrobatic layup, plus the foul, got Dalhousie on the board almost four minutes in.
The Ravens pulled ahead by 11 points (21-10) early in the second quarter, but Dalhousie went into lockdown mode at that juncture, outscoring Carleton 13-3 over the next seven minutes to cut the deficit to 24-23 at the half.
Things opened up in the third quarter – the two teams both put up as least as many points in the frame as they did in the entire first half. But the pace favoured the Ravens. They put together a 7-0 run midway through the quarter, capped by a steal and breakaway layup by point guard Kaza Kajami-Keane, to get the lead back to double digits at 46-36. They cruised from there, leading by as many as 18 points in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens, after shooting just 31 per cent (9-for-29) from the field in the first half, hit 59 per cent (19-for-32) after the break.
"We watched them last year at nationals," Smart said of the Tigers. "They're just a tough, hard-nosed team.
"They're the way that we like to play – scrappy, and they fight for everything."
Fourth-year forward Ryan Ejim paced the Ravens with 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, and Connor Wood counted four three-pointers among his 18 points.
Kashrell Lawrence led the way for Dalhousie with 18 points, and Aquino-Serjue chipped in with 16.
"They give up nothing easy – that's why they're the top defensive team in the country," reasoned Tigers head coach Rick Plato, whose team shot 35.4 per cent from the field for the game. "They make you earn everything.
"I think our rebounding was good, and we forced more turnovers and we shot 80 per cent from the foul line. Usually those kinds of statistics, they'll bear out. But we just couldn't put the ball in today, and that's because of Carleton. All the credit goes to Carleton for playing a great game."
The Ravens move on to face the winner of Saturday's late semifinal between the No. 1 Ryerson Rams and the No. 4 Calgary Dinos. The title game tips off at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time (8:30 p.m. Eastern), and will be televised on Sportsnet 360 and webcast at www.CIS-SIC.tv. The Tigers will take on the Ryerson-Calgary loser in the bronze medal game at 2 p.m. (www.CIS-SIC.tv).