By Drake Lowthers
March 5, 2015
The Island Storm defeated the Saint John Mill Rats 124-103 in Game 1 of the first round National Basketball League playoffs in front of 1,300 people at the Eastlink Centre March 5.
With the win the Storm snapped a five-game losing streak, which saw them lose the Atlantic Division to the Halifax Rainmen in the last game of the regular season.
Storm head coach Joe Salerno said the win was really big.
“If you can win game one in a five-game series, you’re protecting home court.”
The team stopped talking about the losing streak last Thursday when the regular season ended, Salerno said.
“When it comes to playoffs it’s all about winning. Saint John has been our focus.”
The team hasn’t been playing the best basketball so it was important to come out tonight playing a good brand of basketball, Salerno said.
“We were unselfish. We had good shots. We played good defence tonight.”
Brandon Robinson shot seven-for-17 from the field, three-for-six from three-point range and three-for-three from the foul line scoring 20 points. Robinson also grabbed six rebounds, dished five assists and had two steals for the Storm. Billy Rush, Nick Okorie and Rashad Whack each had 17 points for the Storm. Anthony Anderson scored 21 points and Raheem Singleton scored 18 points and led the Mill Rats.
“Our offense came alive tonight,” Robinson said. “We started off strong and were firing on all cylinders early.”
The Storm opened on an offensive high starting the game on a 12-0 run. The Mill Rats shot their way back into the game hitting four three-point shots and tied the game back up half way through the first quarter.
With 5:09 remaining in the first quarter Sammy Zeglinski went down with a leg injury for the Storm and didn’t return to the game. Zeglinski injured his hamstring earlier in the year in a game against the Mill Rats and was out for a month missing 11 games.
Salerno said after the game he hadn’t talked with the trainers yet so he doesn’t know the extent of the injury.
“I saw him in a walking boot and on crutches already. I heard it was a sprain and he didn’t fracture anything but there hasn’t been x-rays yet so I’ll have to wait and see.”
The play went back-and-forth for the remainder of the quarter and the game was tied 26-26.
The Storm started the second quarter off strong as well, scoring eight straight points, which was capped off by an Okorie alley-oop slam-dunk.
Storm centre Nick Evans said the team had to come out and play strong defence.
“Deny the passing lanes, really get up and pressure the ball. Our defence definitely led to our offence clicking.”
Okorie ended the game with nine assists and said the team needs to keep the ball moving.
“At this point in the year it’s not about yourself. It’s about the team so making one more pass to get everybody involved that’s what matters.”
The Storm scored 41 points in the second quarter and began to pull away in the later half of the quarter with strong defensive play and lead the Mill Rats at half 67-49.
The third quarter saw the Storm increase their intensity and took a direct offensive approach.
Okorie made multiple highlight-reel assists resulting in thunderous alley-oop slam-dunks from Robinson and Rush.
“It really comes natural,” Rush said. “I just have to free some space on the floor. Okorie is the one to make it all happen with that sweet pass.”
With 6:37 remaining in the third quarter Storm power forward Mike Martin received a technical foul giving him five fouls in the game and didn’t see the court for the remainder of the game.
Robinson hit a corner-three over two Mill Rat defenders with four minutes to go in the quarter to put the Storm ahead by 16.
The quarter ended with another explosive alley-oop by the Storm who led the Mill Rats 99-77.
Charlottetown native Doug McKinney saw his first action in the fourth quarter for the Storm.
McKinney said the team will watch game-film to see what was working for them and to see where their mistakes were to prepare for game two.
“It definitely wasn’t a perfect game for us so we got to come out and make some adjustments in some of the places that we struggled.”
The Storm’s surge was felt late into the fourth quarter where the Mill Rats couldn’t keep up with the Storm’s high-octane offense.
With five minutes to play Olu Famutimi lobbed a pass to Rush in which he threw down another massive alley-oop slam-dunk to cap off the game.
Salerno said the team has confidence now and needs to understand how they played during game one.
“I believe it was some of the best basketball we’ve played this whole season. Understanding the mentality that we came with into the game tonight and bringing that same mentality on Saturday is vital for us.”
One major contributor to the outcome of Game 1 would have been the points scored off the bench. The Storm’s bench scored 68 points while the Mill Rats’ bench only managed 36.
“Going into game two we need to keep our defense intensity up,” Evans said. “We need to make it a staple for moving forward in the series.”
The Storm look to take a strangle-hold of the series as Game 2 gets underway Saturday in Saint John and Game 3 is back in Charlottetown Sunday at 2 p.m.