Jahmal Jones scored 20 points while Adika Peter-McNeilly added 19 as the seventh-seeded Rams upended the No. 2 Windsor Lancers 82-68, clinching their first-ever spot in the Canadian university semifinals.
The victory came on Ryerson's home court, and in the first time the tournament has been held in Toronto in its 53-year history. It was also the latest step in the remarkable growth of a program that was a basketball laughingstock only a decade ago.
Asked if he was finally breathing a sigh of relief, Rams coach Roy Rana said "You know what, I didn't really think of it that way. . . Because if I did then I would be putting undue pressure on myself and our kids.
"So it was really about just how do we perform from a possession to possession basis. Now that it's over, yeah, I'll smile a little bit, I'll relax a little bit."
The Rams will face the No. 3 Ottawa Gee-Gees, who survived a huge scare to defeat the No. 6 Bishop's Gaiters 91-85 in overtime.
The defending champion Carleton Ravens, meanwhile, barely broke a sweat rolling over the Saskatchewan Huskies 90-50 in the day's opening game.
The Ravens will face Victoria in Saturday's semifinals after the Vikes edged the Dalhousie Tigers 57-56.
The Rams have been a team on the rise for the better part of the decade, since it went a woeful 1-43 in 2003-'04 and '04-'05. They reached the Final 8 in 2012, but dropped a 30-point loss in their opening game en route to finishing sixth.
"It's just the process we've built (over the five years) that I've been here," Jones said.
Jones said there were some early jitters before a noisy Mattamy Athletic Centre crowd that included Toronto Raptors Greivis Vasquez and Bruno Caboclo. But the Rams shrugged it off to lead 42-31 by halftime, and 65-44 with one quarter left.
"There's no pressure on us," Jones said. "This is my last one, I'm just going to go out there and enjoy it, there's no pressure on us at all."
The Rams haven't had much luck against Ottawa, having lost twice this season to the Gee-Gees.
"They beat us what, can't even remember, the last six or seven times," Jones said. "But we haven't played them on our home floor.
"The last thing I want to see is another team hoist the championship trophy on our home floor."
Ottawa coach James Derouin still appeared shell-shocked after Bishop's took the Gee-Gees to overtime.
"If I was being honest, they probably deserved to win this one based on the stat sheet," Derouin said. "But you've got fourth and fifth-year guys who just don't want to stop playing.
"They willed it, I would never guess looking at this (stat sheet) that would have won this."
Caleb Agada scored 22 points to lead Ottawa while CIS MVP Johnny Berhanemeskel added 19.
"I think there was an angel watching over our team, because at times they deserved that win," Berhanemeskel said. "But basketball doesn't always work like that, and sometimes you can squeeze out a win and get another chance, so we'll just take it and run with it."
Jona Bermillo had 23 points to lead Bishop's, shooting 6-for-10 from behind the arc.
Carleton, meanwhile, lived up to its reputation as the four-time defending national champion.
Brothers Philip and Thomas Scrubb combined for 42 points by halftime — Saskatchewan, as a team, managed just 18.
Philip Scrubb finished with 31 points, shooting 10-for-15 from the field, including 6-for-8 from three-point range. Older brother Thomas added 18 points.
"I just felt pretty confident in my shot," Philip said. "I started hitting my shots early. If you're making them, you keep taking them.
"That's not something we're going to rely on for any game. We like to stick to our defensive fundamentals. Obviously, it went well today. But we can't expect something like that from any guy on any given night."
The Ravens, who've won 10 of the past 12 CIS titles, took a 28-10 first-quarter lead and were up 48-18 at the half.
Carleton took a 72-39 advantage into a fourth quarter in which neither Scrubb brother played.
"It's definitely a tough situation to be in," said Ben Baker, who scored 11 points for the Huskies. "They just have so many ways that they can hurt you. You kind of start to focus in on one area and then they start hurting you in another ... that's the way they are built, they are not built on one or two guys, that's a whole team.
"As soon as you start giving a little leeway in one direction, they kind of burn you the other way."
Matthew Forbes scored 14 points to lead the Huskies.
Grant Sitton had 19 points to lead the fourth-seeded Vikes over No. 5 Dalhousie, while Marcus Tibbs added 16. Chris McLaughlin had 10 points and 11 rebounds and hit two free throws with six seconds left to clinch the victory.
The semifinals are Saturday and the medal games go Sunday. The venue will also be used for basketball at the Pan Am Games this summer.Suggest a correction