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Photo: Rémi Yuan

Thrilling battle between nation’s elite prove Gees are the team to beat

What was once a great tale of David vs. Goliath has now morphed into something greater.

On Jan. 16, the Gee-Gees toppled any notions of the Carleton Ravens men’s basketball team being the unequivocal best team in the nation. The teams traded slim leads nine times throughout the game, all coming to a head with a last minute Gee-Gee push to secure a 75-73 win.

The Garnet and Grey have lived in the shadows of the Ravens through an unparalleled streak of dominance spanning nearly 15 years. But there’s no other team that wants to beat Carleton more than the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.

While the attention of the masses has remained fixated on the Ravens, there have been brief but powerful flashes of light for the Gees that came to define the team’s identity. Head coach James Derouin knows all too well about the rivalry between schools and the Gee-Gees’ ever present struggle to top their foes from Carleton.

“When Ottawa plays against Carleton, it’s not even the same sport—it’s war out there.”

After being the number-one-ranked team in Canada for the first five weeks of the season, the Gee-Gees were dealt a blow when the voters dropped them to third after suffering a single loss to the Laval Rouge et Or in an exhibition game over the holiday break.

For the first time in recent history, there was an extended period of time where people truly believed the Gee-Gees were better than the Ravens—they just had to prove it. Those same people were quick to stop believing in the Gees, and it was up to them to change their minds again.

Carleton’s Ravens Nest was packed with fans of various allegiances, all brought together to watch the titans clash.

The game of so much significance to both sides was all it had been heralded to be. The teams traded blows for a full 40 minutes and, when the dust settled, the Gee-Gees came out on top.

The efforts given by Caleb Agada, Mike L’Africain, and Matt Plunkett in the closing minutes of the game were pivotal to the Gees’ win.

A three-pointer by Plunkett helped the Gees crawl back into the game and led to back-to-back buckets from L’Africain and Agada. With 1:59 left on the clock, the momentum had fully shifted into the Gee-Gees’ favour.

A charge taken by Plunkett put the ball in the Gees’ hands, and Agada then sank three free throws to tie the game. As the clock ticked to one minute remaining, L’Africain took the ball, spun and nailed a turnaround jumper for the lead.

Carleton took the ball to look for a win but ran into staunch defence from their bitter rivals, a deep three-pointer was off the mark as time expired.

Gee-Gees players and fans stormed the court in excitement and the Ravens slumped away, waving goodbye to their unbeaten record and likely their number-one ranking.

The troubling moment in the victory was Agada rolling an ankle while driving to the hoop. He showed visible pain while gutting out the final seconds on the floor and had to be assisted to the locker room after the game.

Agada is a contender for both the Most Outstanding and Defensive Player of the Year awards, and his 23-point, 10-rebound performance was the driving force behind the win.

Fifth-year point guard Mike L’Africain also had a landmark game with 17 points, six assists, four rebounds, and three steals.

L’Africain’s performance, culminating with the game-winning basket, was slightly hindered after a dishwashing incident caused him to require two stitches in his right hand.

“These are the games you can’t sit off for,” said L’Africain. “It’s a statement win, but to us it doesn’t mean anything until the other ones. We’ve been here now, so the only one we’re worried about is the last one.”

For Coach James Derouin, the game means another step in the right direction in pursuit of the school’s first national championship.

“This is the third in three years against them,” said Derouin. “I’m hoping that our veterans that have been there for all three wins understands that good job, we might have to go into Toronto without Caleb next weekend, so the job is not done.”

The Gee-Gees will take the win and enjoy sole possession atop the Ontario University Athletics’ North Division heading into a trying stretch of schedule.

The team is off to Toronto to do battle with the middle of the pack Varsity Blues and their fifth-ranked rival Ryerson Rams, with likely limited to no services from Caleb Agada.

Upon returning to Ottawa, the Gee-Gees will prep for another clash with the Ravens, this time in front of over 10,000 at the Canadian Tire Centre for the Capital Hoops Classic on Feb. 5.

Could this be the year that the Gees finally step out of the shadows of Carleton and into the spotlight? That remains to be seen, but for now, the Gee-Gees are just enjoying the view at the top.