In a battle of two of the best defensive teams in the nation, it was the Ryerson Rams who came out victorious, holding on late to beat the host Dalhousie Tigers, 59-58.
Down by one with 11 seconds left to play, the Tigers had a chance to steal the victory, however dynamic forward Kashrell Lawrence was unable to hit the last-second three.
“We had a play called that we were going to do if we were down three, and with the noise, they couldn’t hear that we changed it,” Tigers head coach Rick Plato said post-game. It would’ve been a difference if (guard) Jordan (Aquino-Serjue) would’ve just taken the ball to the basket and at least try to draw the foul, because we were only down by one – we didn’t need a three.
“You could find one point or two points in a hundred spots in that game, I just feel so bad for our guys – it’s tough.”
The Rams were able to hold Tigers seniors Kashrell Lawrence and Ritchie Kanza Mata to just 10-of-25 shooting from the field and also got an inspired fourth quarter from forward Filip Vujadinovic, who finished with 16 points and was a difficult matchup for Dalhousie forward Sven Stammberger down low.
“(Filip) had a great game today, and really in many ways was the difference,” said Rams head coach Roy Rana.
“I said in the locker room, right now that the game ball goes to him. I think right from the tip in the first half, his energy ignited us and he made some big plays in the fourth quarter.”
Both teams flashed their muscles on defence early, recording a combined seven steals. Nether teams shot particularly well in the opening 10 minutes, however it was the Tigers who entered the second quarter up 16-9, thanks to a late 9-0 run which included a clutch trey from guard Jarred Reid.
The squads combined for eight more steals in the second quarter in what was a back-and-forth, up-tempo 10 minutes of play.
Guard Adika Peter-McNeilly went on a personal 6-0 run in the opening three and a half minutes, and had nine points overall to help give the Rams a 25-24 lead in the final minute. Dalhousie would battle back on the strength of Reid, who had four rebounds and two steals in the half, as well as a critical trey with 18 seconds to play which gave the Tigers a 29-27 halftime lead. Reid also led all scorers with 13 points.
After being held to just two points in the first half, Ryerson guard Ammanuel Diressa started to find his shot, going 2-for-4 from the field, including a trey that gave his team an early third-quarter lead.
Stammberger matched Diressa’s pace however, slamming home a dunk just over three minutes in to put the Tigers back in the lead. Stammberger would nail a three-pointer shortly after, and guard Ritchie Kanza Mata was able to drive inside the lane as the Tigers took a 42-40 lead into the fourth.
Vujadinovic was the difference maker in the fourth quarter, finishing with 10 points. Every time the Tigers seemed to grab momentum, the physical forward was able to gain it right back.
With the win, the Rams advance to their first-ever national championship game and will face Carleton in a rematch of the OUA Championship, which the Rams won. Game time is 2 p.m. AT Sunday. The Tigers will face McGill for bronze at 11:30 a.m. AT Sunday morning.