By: Jackson Starr (Photos by Valerie Wutti)
OTTAWA - There was an electric atmosphere at the Ravens’ Nest on Wednesday night as the Carleton Ravens defeated the Queens Gaels 93-86, advancing to the U Sports Final Eight tournament for the 20th season in a row. The team also returns to the OUA Wilson Cup Finals for the first time since 2020.
The game was close throughout, as both teams traded buckets right from the get-go. It was a back-and-forth first quarter with both teams playing a physical brand of basketball. Connor Vreeken (Kingston, Ont.) and Grant Shephard (Kelowna, BC) led the way offensively in the first quarter for the Ravens, with Vreeken picking up 10 first-quarter points and Shephard picking up eight. Meanwhile, for the Gaels it was Cameron Bett who got his team going early picking up eight first-quarter points. After a very tightly contested quarter, the Ravens held a slim 25-24 advantage.
The game was no different in the second quarter, with both teams keeping it close and trading leads. In total there were 20 lead changes on the night just showing how close of a contest it was. Vreeken and Shephard continued to lead the way for Carleton in the second by picking up 12 points each, while Bett and Cole Syllas each picked up 13 for Queens. Carleton just edged Queens by two points in the quarter and carried a 49-46 lead to the dressing room.
The Ravens came out with a very strong start to the second half going on an early run to increase the lead to six. The Gaels however, responded as the quarter went on to tie the game at 59 late in the third. Bett once again was big for the Gaels making a big three point shot to close the gap. Aiden Warnholtz (Ottawa, Ont.) elevated his game in the third and collected nine points in the quarter while Shephard collected four. The Gaels battled back to take the quarter by two points and claw to within one, 62-61 heading to the fourth.
In an all-or-nothing fourth quarter, both teams continued to trade buckets in the early going. The Ravens were able to grab a decisive lead off of an MJ Okado (Calgary, Alb.) bucket and a big Warnholtz three. The Gaels however, didn’t go down without a fight and battled back to take a three-point lead with just over two minutes left. Cole Syllas led the way for Queens in the fourth picking up 12 points. The Ravens would claw back to take the lead off of a Shephard bucket and some help from Okado and Warnholtz at the free-throw line. Shephard also slammed down an electrifying late dunk to seal a 93-86 victory for the Ravens.
The win results in the Ravens facing off against the uOttawa Gee-Gees this Saturday at the Ravens’ Nest in the OUA Wilson Cup Finals. It will be the third Bytown Battle of the season with the Ravens having taken the first two matchups. It is set to be an all-time showdown between the two bitter rivals.
“We went through a lot of adversity, a lot of things and a lot of naysayers, a lot about how we're not going to get back there. These guys knew that whatever team we had out there and whatever guys we had out there, they gave us everything they had.”
“It’s a very difficult thing that people think is easy. This is not easy. Getting there that many times in a row, I know we think it's easy and it's a joke (but) it is very difficult. Programs have not even been there, programs have not even gotten to this point. For this group of guys to be able to get this done, they should be super proud of themselves.”
“They’re a good team. They’re tough, they rebound, they make a lot of shots, they’re just a tough team. We know each other very well through the year. We were at the same time, same situation last year.”
“We’ve done it before, we know what we need to do, we know the journey. That’s hopefully our advantage at Nationals. We know how long it takes, we know how to prepare for three games, every game we take seriously, for us we were as prepared as anybody for Nationals.”
“The reality is it doesn't matter if it’s an OUA championship. If we were playing Ottawa at Springhurst Park we wouldn’t want to lose to them so it doesn’t matter. It’s not about the OUA Championship, it's not about any of that. We’re competitors, we don’t want to lose to them…they don’t want to lose to us and that’s what makes the rivalry awesome.”
“Happy that we can earn our way to Nationals. We want to win that last game as well against Ottawa U. Another tough opponent who we’ve beaten twice this year so we’ve got to get ready for that game too.”
“Don’t overthink it too much. It’s a foul shot, I’ve been there lots of times before on the free throw line so just got to know you can make it, step up, take your time and hit it.”
“We knew we could find the right matchups and get some baskets on offence. They’re a talented team, and they’ve got some good players offensively so it was just about making sure we’re stopping their main guys. The whole game was high scoring so just making sure we could get some stops on defence and keep it simple on offence.”
“It’s always a lot of fun when you can get a big crowd out. They were great today, that helped us for sure (with) a little bit of extra energy. Hopefully, it's like that as well on Saturday because it’s always awesome to have people like that and it's a great atmosphere to play in.”