Without Connor Wood, No. 1 Carleton would have seen its chance of being the CIS Final 8 top seed evaporate on Friday.
Until Thomas Scrubb did, well, Thomas Scrubb things in final 10 minutes on his way to 31 points and 12 rebounds in the Ravens' 84-80 win over No. 3 Ryerson in the OUA Final Four in Ottawa, the third-year Wood was their lifeline. As much as the four-time defending CIS men's basketball champions are identified with their sibling stars, the story of their late-season push has been about Wood, who scored 21 points on Friday on 9-of-10 from the floor, becoming an all-around scorer.
"Mostly it's just been about getting in the gym with Phil [Scrubb] and Tommy and watching what they do, Seeing how hard they work off the court," Wood said after Carleton's win at Montpetit Hall that set up a Wilson Cup rematch with Windsor, who handed them one of their two regular-season losses. "That's what I've been trying to replicate.
"We've taken this year as an opportunity to push to prove ourselves after losing the two big guys from last year [inside players Tyson Hinz and Kevin Churchill, along with guard Clinton Springer-Williams]," Wood added. "I've tried to be aggressive every night and see what happens."
When a game or a 50/50 ball is there for the taking, Carleton will inevitably take it. These Ravens, who often rely on a four-guard setup with 6-5 Thomas Scrubb playing an undefined position, aren't as invincible as recent national champions, but still have that indomitability. That was manifest with how they overcame Ryerson after being down for 3½ quarters.
Ryerson led by four midway through the fourth when Wood ripped a rebound away from Aaron Best (20 points, six rebounds), then curled his body around 6-foot-9 Ohio University transfer Kadeem Green for layup. That potential four-point swing launched the 10-0 Ravens run that put them ahead to stay. That outburst included Phil Scrubb throwing down a rare contested dunk over Adika Peter-McNeilly.
But, getting back to Wood, that steal and score was a veteran play.
"I just took it and they didn't call anything, I saw Green come in so I knew I had to go for the reverse."
Ryerson was able to keep Phil Scrubb to 5-for-21 from the floor during a 19-point night. With the three-time CIS player of the year a touch off, the 6-foot-4 Wood filled the void, repeatedly driving on Ryerson's undersized guards.
"I think Connor's confidence level has increased," Ravens coach Dave Smart said. "When your confidence level increases good things happen. We need him to play at a high level and he's been doing that. He can really score. He's a tough cover 1-on-1 and what he's got better at it is moving the ball off his penetration so they really can't load up on him."
'All four teams are going to nationals'
Carleton's win over Final 8 host team Ryerson, coupled with Windsor beating Ottawa earlier in the evening, makes the seeding picture for nationals all the more murkier. The No. 2-ranked Gee-Gees losing cinches having four OUA teams in the field next week in Toronto. Slotting all four into a field where unranked Dalhousie and the winner of Saturday's McGill-Bishop's Quebec final must be the 5 or 6 seeds will be vexing for the seeding committee.
The chances of having an all-OUA matchup in Thursday's first round are very strong.
"All four teams are going to nationals and how the draw sets up, who knows with how the rules are set up," Smart said.
"They're, if not the best team in the country, one of the best teams in the country," Smart said of the Ravens. "I think any time we play we're going to have a tough time beating them.
Rams 'not about making statements in losses'
For Ryerson, while the loss doesn't affect its Final 8 status, it still cuts to the bone.
"Our guys are disappointed because they really believe they can win," Rams coach Roy Rana said. "We're not about making statements in losses. The nice thing is we still have a life because we're the host. We know that our road to a national championship will likely go through Carleton, Ottawa or maybe even Windsor, who's showing a lot of strength. We'll try to get better in the next week.. You'll have to play them at some point.
"I thought we did a pretty good job for 3½ quarters and then we blew some coverages, but that's why they're so good. They're very methodical."
Carleton, of course, lost by three points at Windsor on Jan. 23. It was the third time since 2008 that the Lancers have beat the Ravens, but every game was at home. While the Wilson Cup doesn't always dictate Final 8 seeding, that should be up for grabs on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, Rogers Television/OUA.tv).
"They destroyed us on the boards last time so I think that's going to be really key," Wood said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.