Ottawa's Calvin Epistola hit two clutch free throws in the final minute to give the Gee-Gees men's basketball team a thrilling 68-67 win in the Capital Hoops Classic over the number one-ranked and undefeated Carleton Ravens in front of 8,103 fans at the Arena at TD Place Friday evening.
"It's big for our program," said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin. "We've made adjustments to our program and to our style of play, knowing how it was going before wasn't getting us where we wanted to go. It's vindicating, we're on the right path by being able to hang there with an undefeated, number one team in the country."
The win is Ottawa's third all-time in the Capital Hoops Classic, snapping a three-year Carleton winning streak. With the women's team winning their matchup earlier in the evening, 2020 was first time Gee-Gees swept the annual showcase.
The Garnet and Grey showed off their range in the opening quarter, draining an early trio of threes. Despite five points from both Sean Stoqua and Epistola, Carleton led by two at the end of the opening quarter.
There was nothing to separate the teams in the second quarter, with Carleton accounting for just two points during a four-minute stretch. The game was knotted at 34 at halftime.
Ottawa took charge of the matchup in the third quarter, outscoring the Ravens 16-10 in the frame. The Gee-Gees scored by committee, with Gage Sabean and Guillaume Pépin carrying the load. The teams hit a dry spell midway through the third however, with neither squad able to make a basket for nearly four minutes.
The game's most unexpected moment came early in fourth quarter, when Marlon Kordrostami banked in a catch-and-release three-pointer. It was the 6-10 centre's first career make from beyond the arc and came with just 0.9 seconds left on the shot clock.
Carleton stormed into the lead after Kordrostami's three, leading by as many as five points. That's when the fifth year Epistola took over, making a crucial lay-up in traffic inside the final minute, resorting a one-point lead for the Gee-Gees.
When the Ravens responded at the line, Epistola attacked the rim again, drawing a foul and nailing both free throws. The Ravens then missed several opportunities in close in the feverish dying seconds, sending a boisterous Gee-Gees crowd into delirium.
"I felt good and I knew I had to put the squad on the back," said Epistola. "We always knew we had the ability. TD [Place] did a great job. It was the best experience in my five years for sure."
Pépin led the Gee-Gees in scoring with 15 points and six rebounds. Epistola packed a stat-line of 14 point, six rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Kordrostami tallied 12 points and had a game-high eight rebounds as the Gee-Gees outrebounded their rival for the second time this season.
"I thought he struggled with the turnovers and was forcing it into tight places," said Derouin of Epistola's performance early. "At the end of the day, when Carleton made their run, it was him who steadied the ship."
The Gee-Gees (now 16-4) hold steady in second place in the OUA East. Carleton (19-1) were handed their first loss of the year, but still sit comfortably in first.
Ottawa returns to Montpetit Hall to wrap up their regular season next weekend. They take on the Brock Badgers on Friday and the McMaster Marauders on Saturday. Tip-off for both games is scheduled for 8 p.m.