Maybe it was the shoes -- for sure it was the shooting.
Led by point guard Tristan Smith and his neon shoes, the Trinity Western Spartans shot 52 per cent in the first half en route to a 86-78 victory over the University of Winnipeg Wesmen in the first game of the best-of-three Canada West men's basketball quarter-final series at the U of W Duckworth Centre.
Game 2 will be played tonight at 7 p.m. with Game 3, if necessary, on Sunday at 2 p.m.
"Our speed definitely kept them on their heels and caused some mismatches, but even our offensive sets in the half-court got us a lot of good shots," said Smith, a fifth-year Spartan who hails from Los Angeles. "It was a good win overall for us."
Smith took some heavy heckling courtesy of the Wesmen men's volleyball team, which showed up in full Wesmen finery and let loose with cat-calls and chants of "Tri-i-i-i-i-stan!"
"I think it was that I have the shiny shoes," Smith said, laughing. "They were fun. I'm kind of used to it at this point in my career and it just gets me more into the game."
The Spartans played an up-tempo style that saw them capitalize on fast breaks and three-point shots while hammering the home side into a 13-point deficit.
"When we gave up 30 in the second quarter, that was a big issue for us. It wasn't necessarily the tempo, it was more the fact that they were getting open shots," said Wesmen head coach Mike Raimbault whose team was outscored 30-20 in the second frame. "We have to just play solid. We need to get defensive stops and start some ball pressure. We need to rotate (on defence) and contest jump shots. If we do that (tomorrow) we'll be alright."
Wesmen fourth-year guard Andrew Cunningham agreed the second quarter was key.
"Second quarter, we didn't guard very well, they started running on us and we weren't getting back in transition, so that was kind of the difference. Those three's are momentum-stoppers," said Cunningham, Winnipeg's top scorer with 21 points. He played 37 of the game's 40 minutes. "We like the up-tempo game but it was just about getting some stops. In the second half we started getting some stops and that's when we got back in the game."
Indeed, the Wesmen had the crowd roaring in the last two minutes when they battled back, going on an 8-2 run on buckets by Mark McNee, Jordan Clennon and Cunningham, along with a couple of free throws to pull within 82-78. But a couple of pushing fouls and the hot free-throw hand of Trinity's Tonner Jackson, who sunk all four from the line in the final minute, left the Wesmen wishing for more time.
"We're going to be more solid on 'D', we'll talk more. We'll be ready to play tomorrow," Cunningham said.
The Wesmen also got 16 points from Steven Wesley, 15 points from Clennon and 10 from McNee. Trinity's top scorer was Jackson with 24 points, while Mark Perrin added 18.