The University of Ottawa men’s basketball team broke a nine-year drought at the MBNA Capital Hoops Classic, capturing a 78-72 victory over the Carleton Ravens in front of 10,105 fans at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday night.
The Gee-Gees were led by Mike L’Africain with 23 points, aided by an energizing 14 point performance from Matt Plunkett. Plunked fired up his team as the Gee-Gees took over in the second half and grew a 13 point lead before late trips to the foul line allowed Carleton to close the final gap.
With the victory, the no. 2 ranked Gee-Gees are now 12-1 in regular season play, while no. 3 Carleton falls to 10-3.
"Winning a game here means a lot to us because of the people in the stands. It does a lot for our program because it feels like every time we play them people think we aren't meant to win and we take that personally," said L'Africain. "We've worked so hard. I'm a historian - I know my Gee-Gees history and it feels good to be part of it right now."
While Plunkett's trio of treys in the fourth quarter provided the final cushion, the fourth-year, Barrie Ont. native also hit a long distance bomb to put the Gee-Gees up 15-9 in the early goings. He finished the night with a stat line of 5-6 from the field, 4-5 from beyond the arc, three rebounds, one assists, one block, and one steal. The block was also significant, stretching at the last moment to reach Ryan Ejim’s close range attempt which appeared to be wide open at the end of the third quarter.
"Plunkett is a major key to our team," said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin. "He can guard multiple positions and brought some blocks and big rebounds again tonight in addition to his shooting. His athleticism is underrated but is a big part of his game and it's huge for us when he plays with confidence and he was excellent tonight."
In the first quarter L’Africain shot 2-3 from three while the grittiness of Mackenzie Morrison and a block from Nathan McCarthy on the opening possession made an early impact.
A big start to the second half established a 37-30 Ottawa lead. It turned into a dominant third quarter for L’Africain and co., winning the frame 22-12 with the point guard netting nine points.
Derouin was particularly positive speaking about the performance of Mackenzie Morrison, the second-year wing who stepped into the starting lineup and collected eight rebounds to lead the squad. "His defence was phenomenal, he dove on loose balls and was in on fifty-fifty rebounds all night. He did all the little things and really stepped up tonight."
Another hustle play paid off to start the fourth when L’Africain hit a triple immediately following Morrison and Medhi Tihani scrapping for a loose ball.
Carleton's Gavin Resch and Plunkett exchanged threes at the seven minute mark of the fourth and the tension rose in the building. Plunkett sank another at 59-48 before Morrison and Brody Maracle collected another loose ball for the garnet and grey.
Brandon Robinson was key defensively down the stretch, looking for a big rebound and grabbing a pass as the Gee-Gees built a 60-48 lead. Then came Plunkett's dagger from the top which stretched the lead to 63-50. Maracle added another highlight when his last-ditch effort to beat the shot clock led to a miraculous over-the shoulder bucket at 67-52.
Tihani joined L'Africain and Plunkett in double-digit scoring with 13 points, seven of which came from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
For Carleton, Guillaume Boucard and Kaza Kajami-Keane each scored 19 with Boucard picking up a double-double with 11 rebounds. The pair scored 12 of Carleton's last 15 points while the Ravens desperately tried to close the gap by sending Ottawa to the line. The Gee-Gees were 14-21 from the stripe during the fourth quarter after going 8-9 through the opening thirty minutes.