Carleton 78, Ryerson 69… 6’7″ Ryan Ejim, sometimes benched and even quietly criticized for his indifferent play for stretches of his fifth and final season, had a season-high 19 points and 9 rebounds, setting the tone early with several strong, inside scores off high/low action as Ravens built leads as large as 23 in the third quarter and held off a late Rams rally for their 7th consecutive National Final 8 championship and their 13th in 15 seasons under now-legendary Head Coach Dave Smart.
“We made the decision that we were going to spend the first five minutes going through the posts and see how they responded. We got what we wanted down low”, commented Smart who again displayed his big-game preparation and strategic thinking, going to the high-low early and often, an action which Carleton had rarely, if ever, showed opponents throughout the season. Carleton continually flashed 6’10” Eddie Ekiyor to the foul line/elbow and got Ejim in a one-on-one low post situations, usually isolating Rams 6’6″ Juwon Grannum, and the brother of Canadian national team player Melvin Ejim stepped up in the biggest game of his career, shooting 7 for 12, including a buzzer-beating 12 foot jumper with the shot clock approaching zero late in the fourth with Rams clawing back in it.
Carleton’s steady 6’2″ fifth-year point guard Kaza Kajami-Keane controlled the tempo for much of the game, continually getting himself into the lane and making solid decisions to either finish or find teammates. Kajami-Keane, who called his transfer to Carleton “the best decision of his life” and his Head and Assistant coaches (Dave and nephew Robert Smart Jr.) the “best coaches in North America” during a post-game interview with Sportsnet 360, finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists including back-to-back scores at the rim that quelled a 14-0 Ryerson run that got the game back to single digits.
6’3″ All-Canadian Adika Peter-McNeilly was spectacular for Ryerson, especially early, with 15 of his team’s 28 points before the break when Rams trailed 39-28. Carleton rode a 21-8 run to start the third to their largest lead before 6’0″ Myles Charvis and 6’4″ Ammanuel Diressa had threes as part of the 14-0 run to get to single digits. But Kajami-Keane, voted Player-of-the-game, calmly beat his man off the bounce twice to restore a double digit gap.
Later, 6’4″ Moser Award winner Connor Wood turned it over and later missed a rushed, open three that opened the door for Ryerson’s final run as Rams got it to as close as 6, the last time with 1:23 to play on a slick tip in by 6’8″ Adam Voll who came alive on the offensive glass in the fourth quarter. But Ejim made his tough 12 footer with the shot clock winding down and later Wood scored on a breakaway “and 1″ lay-in to seal it.
Wood, who by some standards had regressed defensively in this his fifth and final season, went back to his strong defending ways this afternoon, along with Ekiyor, holding Rams outstanding wing Diressa in check with what was a very underrated defensive effort by the native of Guelph, ON. Diressa shot just 4 for 14 including 1 of 7 from three and showed his frustration at the close coverage with an uncharacteristic technical foul in the third quarter.
5’11” Ammanuel Owootoah knocked down four large threes for Carleton to finish with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists and more importantly took up the challenge of guard Peter-McNeilly down the stretch. After Adika’s wonderful first half effort of 15 points, the fifth-year wing had 8 second-half points, finishing with a team-high 23 points and 4 rebounds.
The game was played at a high level with just 14 turnovers apiece as Carleton won the battle on the glass (46-38) including allowing just 9 offensive boards, but 3 in the final frame when Rams used second-chance points to get back in it.
Another tremendous tournament put on by the folks in Halifax and for those who have not been out here, I strongly urge you to consider making the trip next March when Acadia hosts the event. Everyone should experience this national treasure in the true Atlantic Canada spirit !