VANCOUVER (CIS) – The No. 2-seeded Carleton Ravens punched their ticket to the CIS men's basketball national semifinals for the 14th straight year, turning aside the No. 7 Thompson Rivers WolfPack 91-75 in quarter-final action on Thursday afternoon.
The opening game of the 2016 ArcelorMittal Dofasco CIS Men's Basketball Final 8 at UBC's Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre was closer than the final score indicated, with the WolfPack battling back to tie the score 50-50 midway through the third quarter.
But the five-time defending national champion Ravens pulled away in the fourth, riding their rebounding prowess and a career night from fourth-year forward Ryan Ejim to victory. Carleton out-rebounded the Thompson Rivers 54-37, and Ejim racked up 26 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs.
"I thought he had a good game in terms of seeing the ball clearly and just being the first guy to move to it," Ravens head coach Rob Smart said of Ejim afterward. "Him and (WolfPack forward Gerard) Gore had a pretty good battle – they're well-matched in there, and I think he was having fun playing today. Any time he sees the ball clearly, he's such a good athlete and he's got good hands, he's going to cause teams problems."
The two programs are a study in contrasts at this championship – Carleton is the reigning CIS men's basketball powerhouse, with 11 national titles in 13 years, including the last five. Thompson Rivers is the newcomer, making its first-ever CIS Final 8 appearance.
Both teams came out shooting the ball extremely well – Thompson Rivers had the favourites on their heels early, building a five-point lead after Luke Morris swished a three-pointer to make it 17-12. The Ravens responded with an 18-6 run bridging the first and second quarters, draining four triples in that stretch, to go up 32-23.
But just when it looked like the WolfPack might be buried in a blizzard of three-pointers, they responded with a 6-0 run, all the points courtesy Gore, and got to within 38-33 at halftime. They drew level at 50-50 just past the midway point of the third quarter on a layup by Morris.
The Ravens, though, regained control. Connor Wood knocked down shots from beyond the arc on back-to-back possessions to get the offence back on track, and in the dying seconds of the third quarter, Marcus Anderson stole the ball and finished a breakaway layup to give Carleton a 65-60 lead. Gavin Resch's three-pointer early in the fourth capped a 9-0 run and pushed the lead double digits, and Carleton cruised from there.
The Ravens survived a rough shooting night from second-leading scorer KazaKajami-Keane. The second team All-Canadian point guard, who averaged 14.1 points during the OUA regular season, missed his first 14 shots from the field and finished with four points on 1-of-15 shooting with nine assists.
Ejim and rookie TajinderLall helped picked up the slack, though. Lall notched 15 points off the bench after averaging 2.4 points during the regular season and going scoreless during the OUA playoffs.
"Those guys, they work their butt off when nobody sees it," Smart said. "That's kind of what our culture is supposed to be about, and it's nice to see that it is. The big thing for me, especially T.J. (Lall), was how solid he looked defensively. It's one thing to feel it a little bit on offence – anyone coming out of high school as a good player is going to be able to do that. But to be that solid defensively was absolutely important."
Wood finished with 18 points, while Guillaume PayenBoucard had a double-double of his own with 15 points and 13 boards.
Gore paced the WolfPack with 22 points, and Josh Wolfram (17 points) and VolodymyrIegorov (14 points, 10 rebounds) also chipped in offensively.
Thompson Rivers head coach Scott Clark noted that the Ravens' effort on the boards wore his team down.
"They're relentless in their pursuit of the basketball," Clark said. "They're the standard-bearer of how hard you have to rebound. You can talk about it all you want, but I think you need to experience that, and that's our first experience with that. Full credit to them – they played extremely hard.
"We watched tape, and Ejim's a guy that's always around the basket and always around the basketball. We lost him a couple times, and he made some shots. But most of his shots were second opportunities, where we just weren't tough enough to deal with him on the glass.
"There's a reason they're the No. 2 seed, and that's probably one of them."
The Ravens advance to play the winner of the quarter-final between No. 3 Ottawa and No. 6 Dalhousie in the semis at 3 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, live on Sportsnet 360 and www.CIS-SIC.tv. The WolfPack return to action in Friday's first consolation game against the Ottawa-Dalhousie loser (5 p.m., www.CIS-SIC.tv).
CU 29-9-27-26: 91
TRU 23-10-27-15: 75
Points: Ryan Ejim (26), Connor Wood (18)
Rebounds: Ejim (14)
Assists: KazaKajami-Keane (9)
Player of the game: Ryan Ejim
Points: Gerard Gore (22), Josh Wolfram (17)
Rebounds: VolodymyrIegorov (10)
Assists: Reese Pribilsky (7)
Player of the game: Gerard Gore
SCHEDULE & RESULTS (all times PACIFIC)
Thursday, March 17
13:00 Quarter-final 1: Carleton 91, Thompson Rivers 75
15:00 Quarter-final 2: No. 6 Dalhousie vs. No. 3 Ottawa (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
18:00 Quarter-final 3: No. 5 McGill vs. No. 4 Calgary (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
20:00 Quarter-final 4: No. 8 UBC vs. No. 1 Ryerson (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
Friday, March 18
17:00 Consolation 1: Thompson Rivers vs. Loser QF 2 www.CIS-SIC.tv)
19:00 Consolation 2: Loser QF 3 vs. Loser QF 4 (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
Saturday, March 19
12:00 5th-place game (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
15:00 Semifinal 1: Carleton vs. Winner QF 2 (Sportsnet 360 / www.CIS-SIC.tv) *
17:30 Semifinal 2: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4 (Sportsnet 360 / www.CIS-SIC.tv) *
Sunday, March 20
14:00 Bronze (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
17:30 Final (Sportsnet 360 / www.CIS-SIC.tv) *
* Webcast of the semifinals & final are on pay-per-view basis.