Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
-With files from TWU Athletics
LANGLEY, B.C. – It's never fun when you're officially the first team to lose to the Triniity Western Spartans in 21 months, but that's where the MacEwan Griffins men's basketball team finds itself after losing 109-97 to them on Friday night.
TWU snapped a 27-game losing streak with the victory - a stretch of futility that went all the way back to Feb. 2, 2018 when, ironically, they last won against the Griffins in Edmonton. It's also TWU's first home win since a January 2018 triumph over Thompson Rivers.
With the result, the Spartans improve to 1-6 in the Canada West standings, dropping the Griffins to 0-7.
"In this league you have to play focused for 40 minutes and we didn't," lamented MacEwan Griffins head coach Mike Connolly.
"It was a tie game down stretch, and it got away cause we had to foul. Basically, we played defence for 37 minutes."
MacEwan actually led the contest by one entering the fourth quarter but faltered when the game hung in the balance.
"We gave up some costly threes, combined with a crucial turnover with three minutes to go to give them the lead," said Connolly. "We also missed some critical free throws down the stretch."
Spartans' American guard Ja'Qualyn Gilbreath burned the Griffins with a game-high 33 points, while shooting 50 per cent from the field, while Aussie forward Adam Gehrig added 24 points on five three-pointers.
"Ja'Qualyn is a superstar in this league," said TWU head coach Trevor Pridie. "He really closed the game out for us and played very composed. He got off to a bit of a rough start, but the game slowed down for him and he picked his spots and began playing really well."
MacEwan had its own superstar in the contest as Abdullah Shittu scored a career-high 31 points – the fourth-highest single-game output by a Griffin in MacEwan's Canada West history.
"We had good games from Abdullah with 31 and Mason Hunter, who found his shooting touch," said Connolly.
The first quarter saw the Griffins get off to the hot start, outpacing TWU 23-14 in the first 10 minutes.
A trio of timely three-pointers from Spartans forward Gehrig and a last second layup from Spartans guard Gabe Mannes in the second quarter saw the Spartans trailing just three points, 46-43 at halftime.
The Spartans continued their momentum into the third quarter, tying the game up at scores of 50 and 55 off Gilbreath three-pointers, before a last second layup from MacEwan's Hunter gave the Griffins a one-point lead at 69-68.
A huge 3-pointer in the fourth-quarter from Ethan DaSilva tied the game at 78 with just over 7 minutes to play, before another 3-pointer from DaSilva gave the Spartans the lead at 81-80. With just over four minutes left in the game, a Mannes 3-pointer gave the Spartans their largest lead of the night at 90-85.
Mannes then added a layup with 2:37 left to push the Spartans lead to nine, as TWU would hold on to come away with the 109-97 victory.
The teams will meet in the rematch on Saturday (8 p.m. MT, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
"We need to continue to compete tomorrow," said Connolly.