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The Island Storm built a big lead, withstood a Saint John Mill Rats’ run, closed out a victory and took over first place in the Atlantic Division Monday at the Eastlink Centre.
The Storm defeated the Saint John Mill Rats 105-97 during an Islander Day matinee in National Basketball League of Canada action.
The Storm took a 20-point lead to half, but saw it dwindle to six heading to the fourth quarter.
Storm forward Jeremy Williams said the team’s mindset heading to the final period was “step on them.”
“We had them the whole game, so it would have been very disappointing if we would have let them come back and take the lead,” he said. “We had to come back and throw them a punch or two in the fourth and carry this win on out.”
The Storm improved to 21-14 while the Mill Rats drop to 20-15.
“We came out dead,” Saint John forward Eric Crookshank said. “We should’ve come out like we did in the third quarter, that’s how we play basketball.”
It is the second straight loss for the Mill Rats, who dropped a 115-104 decision in Halifax on Saturday.
“We have to go back to the drawing board and work on the little things to get us out of the slump,” Crookshank said. “The guys need to understand that because we’re the No. 1 seed, doesn’t mean we can take a team lightly.”
He added the team was shorthanded on Monday, including forward Jermaine Blackburn being limited to 11 minutes after sustaining a calf injury.
While home-court advantage would be nice to have in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Crookshank said, it is not the team’s top priority.
“Our focus is coming together as a unit and the productivity, it’s not about first place, second place,” he said.
Williams was pleased the team was able to come out victorious in front of a crowd of 2,211 – the second largest crowd of the season.
“It shows we can overcome adversity,” he said.
It was the Storm’s last home game of the regular season. It finishes with five games on the road, including three contests in four days in Ontario starting on Saturday.
“Hitting the road, we needed a big victory to kind of boost our confidence,” centre Steve Tchiengang said. “It was definitely a good victory against a good Saint John team.”
“We’re playing some pretty good basketball,” added Storm coach Joe Salerno. “We just have to take care of it out on the road and try to lock up this division.”
The Storm was without point guard Al Stewart, who the team thought might play during the past weekend. He has been out since Jan. 17 after spraining his knee.
“Al is not quite ready to go yet,” Salerno said. “We want to make sure Al is healthy for the playoffs, so we’re going to take our time with him.”
Mill Rats – 97
Storm – 105
Mill Rats – Tyrone Levett, 22; Doug Herring Jr., 21; Anthony Anderson, 20.
Storm – Adrian Moss, 20; Jeremy Williams, 17; Antonio Ballard, 16.
Mill Rats – Eric Crookshank, 16; Lawrence Wright 10.
Storm – Ballard, 15.
Mill Rats – Anderson, 7.
Storm – Moss, 7.
Mill Rats – 45 (36-80).
Storm – 46 (37-80).
Mill Rats – 23 (7-30).
Storm – 39 (13-33).
Mill Rats – 62 (19-for-29).
Storm – 64 (18-28).
Score by the quarter
1 2 3 4
Mill Rats 23 14 34 26
Storm 22 35 20 28
Quote – “They made some runs, but we were able to get some stops down the stretch.” Steve Tchiengang, Storm centre.
Storm 110 Mill Rats 93
Storm 129 Mill Rats 93
Mill Rats 117 Storm 90
Storm 106 Mill Rats 103
Storm 100 Mill Rats 96
Mill Rats 102 Storm 94
Mill Rats 106 Storm 104
Storm 129 Mill Rats 127
Storm 117 Mill Rats 111
Storm 105 Mill Rats 97
Storm remaining game
Storm at London Lightning, 8 p.m.
Storm at Brampton A’s, 8 p.m.
Storm at Mississauga Power, 8 p.m.
Storm at Halifax Rainmen, 7 p.m.*
Storm at Halifax, 7 p.m.
* Game was rescheduled from Sunday