It takes a very good basketball team to force the Ryerson Rams away from what they do. The Carleton Ravens, winners of seven straight national titles now after a 78–69 win over Ryerson in Sunday’s U SPORTS championship final, are pretty good.
A week ago, the Rams beat the Ravens on their home floor to win the Wilson Cup. Carleton came back on Sunday with a renewed defensive effort, and this, really, defined the game. At the end of the first half, Ammanuel Diressa — averaging 19.0 points per game (7th in the OUA) this season —had mustered just two points and Ryerson was down 39–28; the deficit swelled to as large as 24 points in the third quarter.
Under head coach Roy Rana, Ryerson plays to manufacture the three-pointer. Nearly every player on the roster has the range for it, and all eight of the players who did play against Carleton took at least two thre-point attempts. More than half of their field goal attempts came from outside, shooting 10-of-38 (26.3 percent) on threes overall. In most games, they’ll convert better than that.
But most games aren’t Carleton. Diressa and Adika Peter-McNeilly are two of the best scorers in the country, and Ryerson’s offense largely depends on them to make shots and draw defenses inwards. Against Carleton, there were clean drives to the rim, no kick-out passes available. The one-on-one defense was phenomenal, the pick-and-roll defense was phenomenal, and every defender rotated on a string. Entire possessions were stalled out.
Ryerson’s best stuff — peak Roy Rana ball — came in the third quarter, when their full-court defense was forcing Carleton turnovers and, most notably, the ball was zipping around to find open shooters again. Diressa, Peter-McNeilly, Myles Charvis and Keevon Small each hit a three, sparking a 15–0 run late in the quarter for the Rams. This is what Ryerson wants to do, and at their best, they can do it at will:
It just wasn’t enough. The game was fairly competitive until the end, and Diressa played a better second half while Peter-McNeilly scored well throughout. But Carleton figured themselves out after the run, and their defense remained strong enough to pull out the win.
Peter-McNeilly graduates this year, as does fellow starter Juwon Grannum. Both players are integral to what the team does, Peter-McNeilly finishing fourth in OUA scoring with 19.2 points per game and Grannum being one of the most versatile players on the team. It begs the question: What’s next?
It would be heartbreaking if this were the Rams’ last chance at a meaningful championship run in McNeilly’s final year. But Diressa returns for his Year 5, and we’d be remiss to forget Voll after he turned in one of the best games of anybody in the game against Carleton. Voll, maybe more than anybody else on the roster, symbolizes the Rana archetype: a versatile player who can start at center and make himself a factor on the glass and at the rim, but also come out to defend the perimeter and, yes, shoot the three-pointer.
This is Connor Wood, the U SPORTS Player of the Year, and this is Voll, shutting down the U SPORTS Player of the Year on a switch:
Above all, Ryerson still has Rana, who is one of the best coaches in the country. You know how he wants to play basketball, with heavy doses of ball movement and three-point shooting, and you know that he’s going to find players that fit the vision. Maybe next season it’ll be Small to break out, after turning in a fine freshman season in 2016–17. Or maybe Charvis, Roshane Roberts and Filip Vujadinovic can continue to hold it down, and we’ll see a national contender in the MAC yet again.
This was very possibly the best season in Ryerson history. A silver medal doesn’t feel like gold, but it ain’t bad. We’ll see how far they go next season.