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The Halifax Hurricanes needed a game like Thursday's NBL Canada mis-matchup against the Windsor Express at The Vault.
Mired in last place in the Atlantic Division and in the midst of two-game losing skid, the Hurricanes derailed the visiting Express 124-98 before 1,642 fans at Scotiabank Centre.
Although not as lopsided as the last time (March 20) these two teams faced each other – the Hurricanes beat the visiting Express by 66 points (144-78) – Halifax dominated at both ends of floor and only trailed for 1:34 early in the first quarter.
“This was such a super important win for us,” said six-foot-eight power forward Tremayne Johnson, who had 14 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes of action for the Hurricanes. “We’re trying to fight our way back to being some kind of a contender and hopefully make the playoffs.
“We were psyched up and ready for this one. We hadn’t been very good, even at home, so we wanted to get one for the home fans. We fed off their energy and we played so much harder on defence. We showed a lot of grit.”
While still looking up at its division rivals, Halifax pushes its record to 5-11 and is a game behind the third-place Island Storm.
The Hurricanes came out of the gate firing on all cylinders. They shot at a 54 per cent clip from the field in the first half and were 7-for-11 from beyond the arc.
The Express (7-8), on the other hand, couldn’t get out of the station. They sputtered in the first half, hit just 29 per cent of their shots – including a 5-for-24 first quarter – and only made two of 16 three-point attempts.
Halifax led 58-42 at the half.
“We always felt we could do this we just hadn’t unleashed it yet,” Johnson said. “We know we’re a good team and that we are capable of more and that we should put up more. We just have to play together and trust each other.
“If we take advantage of the mismatches against the teams that we play, we should be all right.”
The Hurricanes were 43-for-78 (55 per cent) from the field overall but it was from three-point range that was the noticeable difference between the two sides.
Halifax was good on 59 per cent of its three-point attempts while Windsor hit just three of 24 from long distance.
Johnson also benefitted from the matchup. The 29-year-old, for the most part, had struggled to find his scoring touch the past month. He had surpassed a dozen points only once in the past six games.
He had 12 points combined in the second and third quarters, scoring his final basket on a reverse jam late in the third which drew a loud ovation.
“I’ve had a few of those earlier in the season,” Johnson, who hails from Los Angeles in the shadows of Hollywood, said about his highlight-reel slam. “I just want to entertain the fans as well; keep them coming back.
“I didn’t have a very good month. I was being too passive before. I just needed to be more aggressive tonight.”
Johnson sat for the fourth as head coach Mike Leslie used his bench extensively in the quarter.
Four Canadians – Marquis Clayton, Tyler Scott, Mamadou Gueye and Marvell Waithe – were on the floor in the final minute. Waithe scored 16 of his season-high 26 points in the final period.
Leading scorer Antoine Mason, who came into Thursday with a league-best 26.7 points per game, once again topped all scorers with 29 points.
“Mase is a great leader for us,” Johnson said. “He has kept us going and has willed us to victories on a couple occasions.”
Ta’quan Zimmerman drained five three-pointers for 15 points and captain Cliff Clinkscales added 10 assists for the Hurricanes.
Former Halifax Rainmen power forward Quinnel Brown paced the Express with 23 points.
Notes: The Hurricanes will get acquainted with the division-leading Moncton Magic over the next five days. Halifax hits the road for a pair of weekend tilts in Moncton on Friday night and Sunday afternoon and then host the Magic on Tuesday night. ... Clinkscales was honoured before the game. He recently surpassed the 2,000 career assists mark, the first NBL Canada player to reach that feat. ... Former Hurricanes forward Terry Thomas's stint with the London Lightning was short-lived. In his third game with the Lightning, the guard from East Preston partially tore his Achilles tendon and is sidelined for the season.