Ottawa - Saturday’s contest will mark the fourth straight season that the Ryerson Rams and Carleton Ravens have collided in the provincial finale, but it is a matchup that fans of university basketball are happy to put on repeat year after year. The Wilson Cup marks the final chapter of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) schedule, and with the top two teams in the conference left standing, the 2018-19 edition should once again be a thrilling final entry to the conference’s hardwood tale.
The folklore of both sides has been well-established over the past several years, and each squad reminded the nation that they are up to task this season; not only playing for a Wilson Cup championship, but also punching their ticket to the U SPORTS Final 8 in the process. And while both teams are familiar with what it takes to go far on the national stage – with Carleton having their national championship streak stopped at eight just last year and Ryerson ending up just one final-second bucket from the Calgary Dinos away from claiming the most recent W.P. McGee Trophy - they must first settle this OUA season series in the Raven’s Nest.
While the teams combined for just three losses on the year, they were each responsible for one of their opposition’s defeats. As expected, both head-to-head meetings were close, being decided by single-digits on both occasions, and it was the Ravens who got in the first shot to open their winter semester. Like they did several times throughout the year, the bench was a prominent part of the black birds’ seven-point win, with Eddie Ekiyor (Ottawa, Ont.) and Yasiin Joseph (Ottawa, Ont.) chief among those key contributors. The pair accounted for a combined 43 points off the pine, while TJ Lall (Cambridge, Ont.) chipped in with a double-double of 12 points and 10 boards.
The Rams’ dynamic backcourt duo of JV Mukama (Hamilton, Ont.) and Myles Charvis (Mississauga, Ont.) countered the Ravens’ top scorers with a combined 43 points of their own, and while it wasn’t enough in their first meeting, the pair – especially the former – took it up a notch in the rematch.
With redemption on their minds, the Rams went into the Raven’s Nest in full swing. They took a four-point cushion into the break and were able to parlay that lead into an identical four-point win. The Rams’ starting guards once again paced the pack, with a combined 46 points, but none were bigger than the go-ahead, step-back three-pointer from Mukama that gave Ryerson the lead for good with 30 seconds to play. Four players recorded double-digit efforts for Carleton in the loss, led once again by Ekiyor (21 points, 10 rebounds).
The stars certainly shone bright against their fellow top contenders, with Mukama’s heroics sparking the Rams dethroning the Ravens (temporarily) from the nation’s No. 1 seed for the first time since early 2016, but that formula held true for much of the season. The proof is in the pudding when looking at the rosters, as this year’s finalists combined for five all-star selections on the year. And part of the reason this all-star contingent rose to the top of the heap was thanks to their two-way play; a diverse skillset that translated to each team’s overall numbers on the year.
The Ravens, once again, topped the conference both offensively and defensively, combining for 91.3 points per game while surrendering less than 60 points against. Ekiyor led the way with his team-high 13.9 PPG, with Lall not far behind (12.5 PPG). What’s more impressive than the totals themselves, however, is how efficiently they came, as both OUA all-stars averaged just 23 minutes of floor time for the No. 1 seed. Led by this pair, the team picked up marks of 49.0% from the field (1st in OUA) and 35.1% from beyond the arc (4th in OUA), while racking up 19 assists on their nearly 34 made field goals per contest – both good for top spot in the conference.
On the other end of the floor, Marcus Anderson (Brampton, Ont.), the conference’s now two-time Defensive Player of the Year, is one of several weapons that can impede the opposition – allowing just 34.5 FG% from their combatants this year – showing that while the Ravens remain one of the best shooting squads in the nation, they are also among the crème of the crop at limiting their opposition. If that’s not enough, they also boast the highest rebounding margin in the league (+16.9), take care of the ball better than anyone (10.3 turnovers per game), and are able to roll out a lineup full of contributors that are keen to power the Ravens to their second consecutive Wilson Cup title and 11th since 2002-03.
Just like the Ravens, however, the Rams are one of the more elite squads when it comes to shooting efficiently on one end (47.2 FG%; 2nd in OUA) and limiting that proficiency at the other end (33.6 FG% for opponents; 1st in OUA). As can be seen up and down their deep roster – a group that includes five double-digit scorers on the year, including a team-high 18.4 PPG from Mukama – the Rams know how to put the ball in the net. They averaged an impressive 86.7 points per outing this season, but it certainly doesn’t end there for the nation’s No. 3 squad.
Helping them on the defensive end, where they give up just 63.4 points per game, is the ability to stop the opposition in their tracks, either with their third-ranked thievery or top-ranked talent when protecting the rim. Understandably, one of the great contributors to these gaudy numbers is team’s athleticism in the backcourt, but a lot of credit also goes to the big man in the middle – Tanor Ngom (Dakar, Senegal). The 7’2” sophomore checks in with over two blocks per game for the reigning national finalists, to go along with 11.3 PPG and 5.6 RPG, but he and the rest of the Rams will need to stand as tall as ever if they want to get back in the Wilson Cup win column and pick up their third title in the last four years.
Like they were along their first two conquests in their playoff push against fellow top-10 squads, Ottawa and Laurier, the Rams seem locked and loaded for this prolific battle. The inhabitants of the nation’s capital, however, after tackling top talents like Queen’s and Brock along their way to the title game, will be ready and waiting for this stiff test as well. So while both sides will have their A-game on-hand in the finale, the recent back-and-forth results between these perennial contenders shows that the final verdict cannot be doled out until the buzzer sounds and the banner is presented.
Regardless of the Wilson Cup result, both the Ryerson Rams and Carleton Ravens will continue their seasons on the national stage, claiming two of the eight spots in the U SPORTS Championship from March 7 to 10 at Dalhousie University.