Carleton's Phil Scrubb, two-time CIS player of the year, drives against Syracuse's Canadian guard Tyler Ennis on Friday (Mike Carroccetto photo)
It did not feel extraordinary that the Carleton Ravens made the Syracuse Orange, a flippin' Final Four team a season ago, work overtime for a 69-65 exhibition win on Friday in front of 6,004 in the nation's capital.
Carleton, over the years, has forced Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals to overtime, lost a one-pointer to Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks and nearly won on the Villanova Wildcats' home floor. Earlier this week, playing with a 24-second shot clock at Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan's behest, it ran by the Big Ten's Badgers 95-82 ("we have never given up more than 90 points, that I can remember," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said afterward).
The Ravens led the 'Cuse for 36 minutes until wearing down in the face of the Orange's characteristic quickness and length — which you might remember from such March Madness runs as 2013's when they held five tournament foes to a piddly average of 48.8 points. There's no shame in that. Plenty of teams have their worst shooting nights against coach Jim Boeheim's Orange, who racked up 11 blocks on Friday — six by Rakeem Christmas — and harried two-time CIS player of the year Phil Scrubb into a 5-of-18, 14-point night.
The amount of hype the game received in Ottawa — Final Four team vs. nine-time CIS champions, Syracuse's 2-3 zone vs. Carleton's man-to-man defensive pressure, winningest Canadian program against Ontario's most-beloved U.S. college powerhouse, a matchup of ,Canadian national-team quality guards with Carleton's senior Scrubb and Syracuse frosh Tyler Ennis — might have been priming for some inevitable letdown. But that was only the case due to a prevailing post-game what now?. Carleton took Syracuse to the wire. Will it face a game remotely as tough before it hosts the CIS Final 8 next March in the same building?
While it's laid waste to Canadian competition while winning 99 of 101 CIS games during its present three-year reign, Carleton is first to point out it is merely several notches above the 10-ish university squads which can go toe-to-toe against D1 teams under the right circumstances. They do it without benefit of full scholarships, million-dollar TV contracts, 24/7 media coverage or fanatical student support on on U.S. college scale, . The question should be, how did that happen and how do you get the country to take notice?
"I don't think it's a whole different ballgame up here," acting Carleton coach Rob Smart, filling in while Dave Smart is with the Canadian men's national team in Puerto Rico, said after matching wits with Boeheim for 45 minutes. "I hope that the last few games [Carleton has played against D1 teams] have shown that. There are probably 10 to 15 teams in Canada that are really close. I think you'll see a breakthrough in the next five to 10 years where they're competing with the top level.
"People who know it are really passionate about the game and we love what we're doing. I think it's a matter of time before other people grab onto it and realize it's a really good product."
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