SUMMERSIDE — It was a game that the Summerside Storm didn’t as much lose as they gave away.
The National Basketball League of Canada’s top team, the London Lightning, defeated the Storm 116-110 in front of 3,007 witnesses at EastLink Arena on Thursday night.
Summerside led for most of the game, but several costly turnovers in the fourth quarter allowed the Lightning to strike in the final six minutes.
“When you play that carelessly with the basketball in the fourth quarter of a tight game, you don’t deserve to win,” said Storm head coach Joe Salerno.
“This may go down as the toughest loss that we’ve suffered this season, in my mind, because we played pretty well against the top team in this league. It was ours for the taking, and we gave it away.”
With the loss, Summerside dropped to 10-20 (won-lost), five games back of the Saint John Mill Rats for the league’s fourth and final playoff spot. The Mill Rats defeated the Quebec Kebs 104-92 on Thursday night.
A crucial game tonight against Saint John could decide the Storm’s playoff fate. With a win, Saint John would be six games up on the Storm, who would have only five remaining, mathematically eliminating Summerside from the playoff picture.
Thursday night, Summerside held a 56-51 lead at the half, thanks to 10 points each from Louie McCroskey and Jessan Gray.
The Storm carried their lead until the midway mark of the final quarter, when London’s Rodney Buford drained a three-pointer to tie the game at 94.
From there, the Lightning would go on a 13-2 run mainly due to three Summerside turnovers in roughly four minutes.
With 32 seconds remaining and London up 109-103, Mike Williams drained a wide-open three-point shot. Williams, who plays predominantly inside the paint, stole the ball on the ensuing inbound play and drove to the hoop for a lay-up.
“When I have my feet set and take my time to shoot the three ball, I’m pretty consistent at it,” Williams said of the surprising play that left the Storm down just 111-108. “The opportunity came up tonight (Thursday), and I had to take it.”
But with Summerside forced to foul London’s shooters, the Lightning went up by four, 112-108, with 23 seconds left.
One final Storm turnover in the last few seconds sealed the team’s fate.
London’s Eddie Smith had a game-high 40 points and 11 rebounds in the win as the Lightning improved to an impressive 24-6 on the season.
Williams finished with a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Eric Gilchrese added 21 points.
Salerno said the players will have to put Thursday’s loss behind them in a hurry if they hope to stay alive in the playoff race.
“First thing (Friday) morning we have to start looking forward to Saint John, and going and trying to salvage a win on the road against a good team,” he said. “We just can’t give games away like we did (Thursday).”