How Carleton swept both sides of the 2023 OUA Capital Hoops Classic

Ottawa, ON – Take a look at the Ottawa 67’s bench at TD Place Arena on a night when an OUA basketball court has not replaced the ice, and you’ll see a simple two-word mantra on the wall behind the 67’s, #NoQuit.  

#NoQuit came about in 2018 and was meant to represent the idea that no matter what happens on the ice, you never give up. Since then, the 67’s made the OHL championship in 2019, were the best team in the regular season in 2020 and currently are the top team in the league in 2022-2023.

On Friday night, the Carleton Ravens, partially through their only faults, had to embody the spirit of #NoQuit. In both the Carleton Women’s 66-60 win over the uOttawa Gee-Gees or the Men following it up a few hours later with a 67-61 win of their own over their cross-town rivals, both sides got a common lesson reinforced that with the Wilson and Critelli Cup playoffs just weeks away, if you want to win in the OUA, you have to be able to grind out all 40 minutes.

Women’s OUA Capital Hoops: Carleton 66 – 60 Ottawa

Jacqueline Urban [#22] takes a three for Carleton (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

With the weather in Ottawa reaching -28 degrees, the early question into Friday was how many people would actually make it out to TD Place Arena? 

As the Ravens and Gee-Gees tipped off at just after 6:00 pm, though close to 2500 fans had already reached the seats of TD Place split almost evenly down the middle between Carleton and uOttawa, and as the game went on, the number continued to rise. 

Early on, despite her star turn through much of the season, the pressure of the crowd seemed to get at the Raven’s Kali Pocrnic as she went 1-6 from the field in the first quarter, missing her first four shots. 

The energy was crazy, like the atmosphere with all the fans and the uOttawa people, Carleton people, it was just crazy, so it was a little nerve-wracking,” Pocrnic said. “But once we got the game going, the nerves kind of went away.”

Kai Pocrnic [#4] takes a shot in the first half (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

The Gee-Gees, without their star fifth-year, Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu, who missed her second straight game, leaned on veteran Natsuki Szczokin for five points in the first quarter. Still, thanks to a pair of threes from Carleton’s Kyana-Jade Poulin, it was 15-11 for the Ravens after the first quarter. Carleton ended the first quarter three of nine from deep though as Ottawa put heavy defensive pressure on them.

“We were really focusing on ball pressure; Carleton they’re very good at driving and kicking, so making sure we do have that ball pressure and having help defence when we need it.” Natsuki Szczokin said.

In the second quarter, thanks to going a perfect 4 for 4 from the free throw line, Kali Pocrnic led the Ravens with nine points. Still, veteran Emma Keisekamp, one of the few Ravens with OUA Capital Hoops experience in a venue like TD Place, stood out for Carleton finishing the first half with eight points and eleven rebounds.

“I remember my first [OUA] Capital Hoops being so nervous being in a huge stadium, playing on new nets, the crowd was crazy, and I remember looking at my vets and seeing that my vets were super calm and relaxed like they’d done this before so today I tried to do that,” Keisekamp said.

Thanks to Keisekamp, the Ravens entered halftime with a 34-25 over Ottawa, and when Keisekamp hit a pair of free throws to push the Carleton lead to 49-34 with 3:25 to go in the third quarter, the Ravens looked well on their way to their tenth straight OUA win. Keisekamp finished the night with a double-double of 18 points and 15 boards.

Emma Keisekamp [#10]at the free throw line (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

“Between both teams with Brigitte out, I’d imagine she’s [Keisekamp] played in more of these games than anybody else,” Ravens head coach Dani Sinclair said. “Particularly on the boards, she was big for us, had a couple of big baskets and was good for us defensively.”

An 11-4 run from the Gee-Gees in the final three minutes cut the game to 53-45 after three a score that might have been closer if not for the Gee-Gees struggling mightily to hit from three-point range in the first and third quarters, going a combined 3-16 from long range.

“I don’t think we’ve ever shot that many threes in a game, we’re not strong at the rim, and we need to be stronger,” Gee-Gee head coach Rose-Anne Joly said.

Both sides traded baskets in the fourth until, with 4:37 left to play, Dorcas Buisas stepped up to the free throw line for an and-one after being fouled by Ottawa’s Emily Payne. She hit it to make it 64-55 for the Ravens and launched the west side of TD Place Arena into cheers as the crowd swelled to more than 5,000.

From that point on, though, what was a high-energy game slowed to a snail’s pace as Ottawa slowly chipped away at the Carleton lead, but the Raven defence refused to close the separation between them.

“I think these days no lead is really safe,” Sinclair said. “Thankfully, we had that buffer, and we were able to withstand it.”

Nadine Katumbayi hit a free throw to cut the game to 64-58 for the Ravens with 2:09 to go, but outside of a Savannah Provo jump shot with 18 seconds to cut it 65-60, the Gee-Gees missed eight of their final nine shots on the night.

In crunch time, it was clear how badly the Gee-Gees missed Brigitte Lefbvre-Okanwu. “Right now, we’re working through not having our best athlete on the floor,” Joly said. “We’re still in the middle of trying to find who we’re playing through.”

Emma Keisekamp hit one last free throw before the clock ran out, and Carleton had the 66-60 win and their second straight OUA Capital Hoops Classic title.

Despite watching the Ravens lift the trophy yet again, with the Critelli Cup as the end goal, the Gee-Gees had bigger things in mind than Friday night.

“These games are definitely stepping stones for us, and even if we lose, it’s not something that we’re gonna take and be sad about; it’s gonna motivate us to be better,” Szczokin said.“It’s not a game we’re upset about because we know what we can do better for the upcoming games.”

Natsuki Szczokin [#9] takes the ball up the court for Ottawa (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

For an up-and-coming Ravens team though riding the high of their tenth straight victory, to do so on a stage like OUA Capital Hoops they hope will bring their young squad closer together. 

I think a lot of the girls on the team it’s their first OUA Capital hoops at TD or in a big stadium so I think that everyone was really excited today,” Keisekamp said. “We were really happy that we were able to execute and get the job done.”

Kali Pocrnic [#4] & Emma Keisekamp [#10] holding the Capital Hoops Classic trophy

Men’s OUA Capital Hoops: Carleton 67 – 61 Ottawa

Cole Newton [#12] takes a shot for Ottawa (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

At just after 8:00 pm in Ottawa, as the noise just continued to rise with a little over 7,000 people packed into TD Place Arena – an estimated final attendance came in at 7029 – the Ravens and Gee-Gess men’s teams tipped off the second half of the 2023 OUA Capital Hoops Classic. 

Carrying over from the women’s game almost from the opening tip, it was clear the nightcap would be, as Ottawa coach James Derouin put it, “a rock fight.”

Carleton missed four of their first five shots while Ottawa missed five of their first six as the boisterous crowd, Ottawa faithful on the east side of the arena and Carleton on the west, only seemed to grow louder with each passing second. 

A Gee-Gees fan celebrates a basket (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

At times, it’s tough to control the adrenaline,” Carleton’s Aidan Warnholtz said. “You just gotta kinda focus on those 12 guys that are with you on the floor and what’s going on in between the lines on the court.”

It was Warnholtz, playing in his third Capital Hoops Classic, who tried to help settle his side down with seven points in the first quarter, including his first three of the night that gave Carleton a 13-9 lead with three minutes to play in the first. An 8-0 run to close the quarter from Ottawa, though, gave the Gee-Gees a 17-13 lead after the first ten minutes. 

Aidan Warnholtz [#31] goes up for the layup (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

Guillaume Pépin struggled mightily for Ottawa in the first half, going one for seven on the way to ten points on a 3 for 16 night. “Not only the misses, but I thought some of the decision-making on those shots was not great,” Derouin said. “In big games, it feels like he’s [Pépin] pressing, he wants it, he’s competing, he’s trying his ass off, but he just hasn’t been able to find that balance in these big games.”

In his place, rookie transfer Kevin Otoo stepped up on the big stage with nine points in the second quarter, part of team-high 22 points overall.

“Got into the game, I was looking at the crowd, I was like whoa,” Otoo said. “But for me, like I can keep composed just blocking everyone out, just focused on my team and game and blocking out the extra noise.

Otoo has not been a stranger to the most prominent stages in Canadian basketball, though, as he led the Humber Hawks to the 2022 CCAA National Championship, partly inspiring the Gee-Gees to recruit him.  “It’s funny because, to some degree, he’s our most experienced player in terms of big games, and that’s why we recruited him. That’s why we wanted to add him to the mix,” Derouin said. “But ironically, he’s only been with us for six months.”

Kevin Otoo during pre-game introductions (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

As Ottawa’s offence struggled outside Otoo, the Gee-Gees saw their lead shrink to 32-31 at halftime. 

The Gee-Gees offensive struggles continued in the third quarter as after a Cole Newton jumper made it 34-31 on the first basket of the half, a 14-0 Ravens run over the next four minutes saw Carleton lead 45-34 with five minutes to go, punctuated by a Warnholtz three that had the Carleton section of TD Place rocking. 

The Gee-Gees defence continued to hold firm as they held Carleton to just five points across the rest of the quarter. Still, it was the inability to capitalize in transition on consecutive defensive stops that badly hurt the Gee-Gees. 

When you stop a team as good as Carleton that many times and you come away with maybe a 2-0 or a 4-0 run, you’re setting yourself up for a loss,” Derouin said. 

Into the fourth, it became a case of Carleton hitting their shots when Ottawa couldn’t. Outside of Dragan Stajic, who picked up eight points, the rest of the Gee-Gees went a combined 4 for 19 from the field and 3 for 12 for three. 

In shades of the 2020 OUA Capital Hoops Classic, where the Ravens could not get one of four shots to fall in the final seconds and lost 68-67, the Gee-Gees put up miss after miss, not connecting on their last five shots as the clock ran down and Carleton took the 67-61 win. 

Grant Sheppard [#10] with a late dunk to seal the win for Carleton (Richard Coffey/49 Sports)

After a pair of shocking losses to the Toronto Varsity Blues and the TMU Bold two weeks ago, Carleton now finds themselves tied with Ottawa and seemingly back in their comfort zone ahead of the 2023 Wilson Cup playoffs. 

“It’s good to get a couple of wins back after a couple of losses,” Warnholtz said. “Those losses reset us a little bit; we can’t just win if we’re not going to play well or not going to practice well, but we’ve still got a ton of things to work on.”

For coach Derouin though, the hope is that the fourth quarter and, indeed, the night’s ending sent a message to the Gee-Gees.

“This group needs to figure out whether it’s 10,000 people or 200 people, that when the stakes go up that they need to play better,”

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