Written by Griffin Porter
Photo by Valerie Wutti
OTTAWA, Ontario – No one ever said it would be easy. The Carleton Ravens knew that it wouldn’t be. The team had played their entire season under the expectation, both from themselves and outsiders, that at the end of the year they would be the ones hosting the W.P. McGee trophy as the national champions of Canadian university basketball. Championships have become the norm for the Carleton men’s basketball team over the last two decades. Just because something is the norm however, does not mean it should ever be taken for granted. The Ravens had to stare adversity straight in the face, adversity in this case being a 14-point Dalhousie Tigers lead in the 2nd half and a normally prolific Carleton offence that had ground to a halt. However, the team never lost faith in themselves and played an incredible final 20 minutes of basketball, spurred on by a raucous crowd at TD Place in Ottawa, to capture the program’s 15th national championship in the last 18 years.
The Ravens faced off against a very strong Dalhousie team that had been consistently ranked #2 in the country all season, led by the U SPORTS Coach of the Year in Rick Plato. The Tigers played a phenomenal first half of basketball, as they took away Carleton’s ability to score in transition, a staple for the Ravens all season, and forced Carleton into bad shots that the Ravens weren’t able to make. Carleton shot just 2-12 from three point range in the 1st half, and was able to stay within striking distance thanks to their defence, which held the Tigers to 36 1st half points, as well as 4th year guard Isiah Osborne, who had 10 of the Ravens 24 points in the first two quarters. Even with the strong defence and Osborne’s effort, however, when star Dalhousie big man Sascha Kappos drilled a long range 3 to beat the halftime buzzer and extend the Tiger lead to 12, Tigers fans began to feel real hope, while Ravens supporters began to wonder if this year would be one of the exceptions to what has become the rule.
According to Carleton head coach Taffe Charles, the locker room at halftime wasn’t panicked or chaotic. Instead, the team chose simply to rely on those that had been here before. Assistant coach Rob Smart had won a national championship as interim head coach, while 5th year players such as Yasiin Joseph and Marcus Anderson already had 3 national titles to their name. Charles himself had won a national championship in 2018 as the head coach of the Carleton women’s team. The Ravens leaned on their experience against a team that was making its school’s first ever appearance in a national title game, and came out in the 2nd half with a workmanlike approach to getting back into the ballgame.
Carleton went away from their unsuccessful long range attack almost entirely, attempting just 1 three pointer in the entire 3rd quarter, choosing instead to attack the basket in a way that they had been unable to do in the 1st half. As the Ravens began to get their mojo back, their offence exploded, scoring 26 points in the 3rd quarter and 24 points in the 4th, after scoring just 24 in the entire 1st half. 2nd year forward Biniam Ghebrekidan came alive, feasting to the tune of 15 points and 8 rebounds in the 2nd half alone, including 5 offensive rebounds on key possessions. Ghebrekidan’s great post play along with his solid defence led to him being named as the MVP of the championship game. Carleton stepped up their defensive intensity as well, as Anderson put his trademark clamps onto AUS MVP Keevan Veinot, holding him scoreless in the 2nd half, and 2nd year guard Aiden Warnholtz hit some massive shots late in the game to accompany Munis Tutu’s go ahead 3 with less than 2 minutes to go. From there, the Ravens continued to play strong D and make just enough of their free throws, and just like that the Carleton Ravens became the 2020 U SPORTS National Champions.
The story of the 2019-20 Carleton Ravens is not one of a tremendous underdog who defied the odds and shocked the world. In the end many would say that they simply met the incredibly high expectations that have been set during this run of championships that has seen little equal in the history of Canadian sports. However, just because the world expected the Carleton Ravens to be national champions does not mean that the accomplishment came easy. No championship ever has and no championship ever will. This Ravens team fought through injuries, illnesses, and adversity of all shapes and sizes on their path to the W.P. McGee Trophy. The story of the 2019-20 Carleton Ravens was not written in entirety on Sunday at TD Place. However, its climax may have come in a quiet locker room as a team stared down a halftime deficit the size of which they hadn’t faced all season, and resolved amongst themselves that they could overcome it. The story of the 2019-20 Carleton Ravens is the story of a group of young men who put enormous pressure on themselves all season long to not just be good, but to leave no doubt that they were the best. And in that quiet halftime locker room, championship coaches, grizzled veterans, and young stars came together and decided that the story of the 2019-20 Carleton Ravens was going to be the story of a champion.