A signature win
Spartans back in playoff contention.
The Trinity Western University Men’s basketball team was suffering through a difficult season that had them looking like a rudderless ship. The entire complexion of the Spartans’ season changed over the weekend as TWU pulled off a huge upset over sixth-ranked Alberta.
Although the Spartans had a similarly poor record like last year’s team, they have actually played a lot better this season. You wouldn’t know it by looking at their record, but the Spartans are doing much better. They gave number two UBC all it could handle at the start of the year; they won a game over top preseason contender Victoria; and they lost a tough one at the buzzer to Manitoba. The Spartans could, and probably should have had more than three wins heading into last weekend. The improved performance and the “close but no cigar” in lieu of shameful blowouts did not hide the fact that they were a major underdog heading into the weekend.
Opposite the Spartans were the Alberta Golden Bears, coming in at 9-1 on the season and riding a six game winning streak—good enough for top spot in the Canada West conference. The matchup harkened back to what turned out to be the unfortunate black eye on the Spartans’ record last season. TWU went 0-10 against the top five teams in Canada West and lost all 10 games by double digits. Despite the improved effort and closer results, the trend had continued into this season as TWU still did not hold a signature win heading into the Alberta game.
That downward trend and the losing streak against top teams finally came to an end in a season-defining 90-85 victory on Friday night. The Spartans came storming out against the Bears, thanks in large part to the contribution of two sorely-missed key pieces. Tristan Smith had been out since Nov.10, but finally returned to action in a big way. He ran the point beautifully; he didn’t force anything, showed great patience, and got the team’s rhythm going offensively. Tonner Jackson, who hadn’t played since the season opener against UBC, chipped in with 19 points and eight rebounds to bring a presence on the low block that the Spartans had been sorely missing.
Jackson, Smith, and Mark Perrin keyed a great offensive attack and an inspired defensive effort that saw TWU build 49-33 halftime lead that was punctuated by an over the head heave from three quarter court by Smith to end the first half. The Spartans continued the onslaught in the second half as Jackson dropped a putback off his own miss to put the Spartans up by 24. It looked like TWU would embarrass one of the top teams in the nation.
Alberta rallied however; after looking disjointed offensively all game they finally started to get more movement in their offense leading to more open looks. The Spartans helped the Bears by going cold from the field for stretches at a time as Alberta was able to whittle the lead down all the way to three and had a chance to tie late. However, Kenneth Otieno missed a three for the tie and Perrin iced the game with two free throws as the Spartans held on to escape with a massive victory.
Even though the Spartans weren’t able to sustain the success and suffered another close loss the next night to Saskatchewan, the season which seemed lost now suddenly has great meaning. The Spartans are only two games back of Thompson Rivers and have a pair of games remaining against TRU. The Spartans also have five games total against Calgary, Mount Royal, and UBC Okanagan; three teams which, in a word, suck.
Suddenly greater things may be in play for the Spartans, now that their full arsenal is finally together.