For the first time since the University of Victoria Vikes accomplished the monumental feat in 1985, the National Basketball Championship in the men’s and women’s bracket were won by the same university: Carleton.
Carleton’s men win fourth straight title
On Sunday in Halifax, the Carleton Ravens men defeated the St. Francis Xavier X-Men 109-104 in an entertaining, high-scoring, back-and-forth affair that went all the way to double overtime before the Ravens secured their 17th national title in the past 20 years.
The Ravens have now won four consecutive national championships, a difficult task made possible by the talent and resiliency of every player on head coach Taffe Charles’ well-guided team.
Guard Aidan Warnholtz was the player of the game with his dominant 23-point and 11-rebound performance, including an efficient eight for 12 shooting from the field. Warnholtz was critical to the Ravens’ success at both ends of the court, performing brilliantly on defence while averaging 24.3 points per game during the March 9-12 Final 8 tournament.
Four of the five Ravens starters recorded 21 or more points. Warnholtz’s fellow guards Wazir Latiff and Connor Vreeken also recorded 23 points each.
Vreeken averaged 19 points per game at Nationals and Latiff averaged 15. Both players, with Warnholtz, were key to Carleton’s success in taking yet another Canadian championship.
The Ravens started the first quarter slowly as the X-Men did a great job of contesting shots in the field and forcing turnovers for transition points. The X-Men jumped out to a 27-17 lead in the first quarter.
But, in the second quarter, the Ravens began to hit shots with more efficiency and improving their defensive play. Carleton limited the space the X-Men had to operate and their versatility and rotational speed on defence allowed them to move around to quickly to contest shots.
Latiff led the way by scoring eight points in the quarter, but the Ravens found themselves still trailing 48-35 at halftime. They were down by as much as 23 in the first half, but a 12-2 run by the Ravens late in the second quarter cut their halftime deficit to only 13.
The Ravens have been in a similar situation before at Nationals under Charles. The Ravens trailed by 12 at halftime against Dalhousie Tigers in the 2020 men’s championship and rallied to win 74-65. The Ravens, no strangers to digging themselves out of a big hole, proved they were up to the challenge again on Sunday in Halifax.
The Ravens roared out of the halftime break with an explosive 11-1 run and outscored the X-Men 23-12 in the third quarter. The Ravens trailed by only two points, 60-58, heading into fourth quarter, and had all the momentum.
The St. FX fans were dejected seeing the Nova Scotia team’s 23-point lead evaporate.
The Ravens’ used an aggressive defence that limited the time and space their opponents had with the ball. Carleton was also efficient in transition, moving the ball well to find open shooters, particularly from beyond the three-point arc.
Centre Elliott Bailey was on fire in the third quarter, scoring 11 points and hitting 75 per cent of his three-pointers to help propel the Ravens’ comeback.
In the fourth quarter, both teams exchanged bucket after bucket and made one highlight-reel play after another. No team was able to pull away from the other; the biggest lead was when the X-Men built a 72-66 advantage with 6:06 left to play. There were three ties and three lead changes in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps the biggest play for the Ravens was a contested, fadeaway three-pointer by Warnholtz with just 13 seconds left to tie the game 82-82 and send the game to overtime.
The Ravens started overtime on a 5-0 run and never surrendered the lead until David Muenkat’s jump shot with 1:21 left in the extra period gave the X-Men a 91-90 lead. Vreeken then hit a huge three to restore the Ravens’ lead before a clutch three-pointer by St. FX’s Avan Nava send the game into double overtime.
The Ravens’ defence turned up the pressure and made several key stops while their offence made several critical shots en route to a 15-6 second-overtime run to close out the game and secure the Ravens’ victory. The dynasty created by former coach Dave Smart — now Carleton’s director of basketball operations — is thriving.
Ravens women win second national title
Across the province in Sydney, the Ravens’ women’s basketball team won its second-ever National Championship defeating the Queens Gaels 71-59 in another phenomenal effort in which four players hit double-digits.
The Ravens had defeated the No. 1 OUA ranked Gaels three of four times this season including a 70-57 to take the Ontario championship.
Star guard Kali Pocrnic, who has led the way offensively all year for the Ravens, again led the team with 20 points, making several huge clutch buckets — including knocking down nine free throws. Pocrnic averaged a whopping 17.3 points per game in the Final 8 tournament.
Guard Emma Kiesekamp was another standout, recording an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double. Her defensive intensity made it tough for her opponents to get the ball to their teammates or to take high-percentage shots.
Dorcas Buisa was a difference-maker at both ends of the court thanks to her rigid defence and ability to drive the rim with ease using her speed and toughness to get past defenders.
She had 12 points, four rebounds and four assists, but played limited minutes in the second half after getting into foul trouble early in the third quarter. However, Teresa Donato stepped up off the bench in Buisa’s absence with 14 points, averaging 11 points per game during the Nationals tournament.
Led by Donato’s excellent performance, the Ravens’ bench outscored the Gaels’ second unit 14-9 and only two Gaels starters hit double digits.
The Ravens played solid defence all night, their versatility allowing them to roll off screens quickly to close down shooting and passing lanes and to contest their opponents’ shots more often.
One of the keys to victory for the Ravens was ball security. Carleton committed only seven turnovers and the Gaels only scored nine points off the possession changes. The Ravens scored five points off of their nine takeaways.
The Ravens were ineffective from three-point territory against a versatile Gaels defence that rotated quickly to contest shots. The Ravens shot only 20 per cent from three-point range, whereas the Gaels were lights out in the first quarter, making 57 per cent of their shots and to give Queen’s its early lead.
In a fast-paced, action-packed first half, the Gaels and Ravens traded buckets. Every time the Gaels hit a shot, the Ravens would go down the floor and hit their own. The Gaels’ biggest lead was seven points late in the second quarter and they led 31-26 at halftime.
However, the Ravens adapted defensively at halftime and the Gaels only made four of 16 three-point attempts in the second half. The Ravens pressured the ball carrier well, giving her less time to find a teammate or less space to take an open shot. Head coach Dani Sinclair did a tremendous job all season, getting the best from her team each game.
The Ravens also compensated for their lack of three-point shooting by recording 16 critical points on foul shots and outscoring the Gaels 14-0 in the paint. Forward Jacqueline Urban, Kiesekamp and Buisa were dominant around the basket all night, collecting rebounds, contesting opposing shots and hitting tough shots of their own.
But like the Ravens have done so often this season, they eventually took control of the game at both ends of the court. The Ravens outscored the Gaels 20-7 in the third quarter and 45-27 in the second half. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Ravens were up 53-41 and looked comfortable. The Gaels cut the lead down to five with two minutes left, but a handful of clutch baskets from Pocrnic and Buisa and a few critical takeaways by Carleton sealed their historic win.