It was standing-room only at the UPEI Sports Centre as nearly 500 people came out to get their first taste of the National Basketball League of Canada.
It was an entertaining affair that took until the final minute of play to decide a winner.
Shooting guard Eric Gilchrese led Summerside with 20 points. His game-tying layup was rejected in the dying seconds, after he stole an inbound pass.
The Storm bench thought a foul should have been called.
“He made a hell of a defensive play on the ball and you know, we didn’t get a call,” Storm head coach Joe Salerno said.
But while disappointed with the result, Salerno said this time of year is focused on player impressions and teaching technique.
“You always want to win games, but that wasn’t necessarily the first thing on the mind tonight (Friday),” he said. “I don’t think we played that well, but we still had an opportunity to win the ball game.”
Power forward Troy Gottselig scored the Storm’s first basket on a nice drive in the paint.
The Storm stormed out to an early lead, using quick passing to open up the court and expose the Rainmen’s defence for threes. At one point, they led 28-13.
But turnovers and listless ball-handling caught up with the Island squad in the second quarter as Halifax tied the game 38-38.
Summerside, after out-rebounding Halifax 27-14, entered halftime up 49-47.
But, in the second half, Halifax’s star guards Taliek Brown and Lawrence Wright went to work, forcing turnovers and hitting key shots.
Brown finished with a game-high 30 points and four steals while Wright added 29. Rodney Buford added 29 off the bench.
“It obviously shows a lot of things we’ve got to still work on,” Salerno said. “We turned the ball over a lot. We saw some flashes of good things, but I think we saw an awful lot of flashes of bad things, too.”
“I think they saw an exciting game, and I think they saw the level of talent that this league will bring. I don’t think they necessarily saw the level of play. . . but I don’t think the event could have gone off any better, except with a Storm win.” - Storm head coach Joe Salerno
Al Stewart, the Storm’s starting point guard, cut the lead to 95-94 following two clutch free throws late in the game. He finished with 11 points.
Fans gave former UPEI Panther Doug McKinney a nice round of applause when he came off the bench in the first quarter.
The cheers only got louder when he hit his first basket moments later. He finished with four points in limited action.
“It definitely means a lot,” said McKinney, 26. “The five years that I played here holds a special place with me.
“To hear that positive cheer whenever my name was called, it’s definitely a nice feeling. It’s humbling in a way.”
Fellow UPEI alumnus Sherone Edwards was also warmly received.
McKinney said fans can expect high-level basketball throughout the course of the season.
“You have guys that have experience in the NBA and have played all over the world,” he said. “As far as comparing it to college, it’s definitely a big jump because these guys are grown men.
“There’s a big difference between the 21-year-olds who play at the CIS level and (the NBL).”
Prior to tipoff, Storm co-owner Duncan Shaw told the crowd he was “thrilled” to showcase his new team at UPEI.
The coach agreed.
“I think they saw an exciting game, and I think they saw the level of talent that this league will bring,” said Salerno. “I don’t think they necessarily saw the level of play. . . but I don’t think the event could have gone off any better, except with a Storm win.”
The Storm’s next home game is in Summerside on Oct. 26 against the Saint John Mill Rats.
The regular season begins Thursday, Nov. 3, when the Storm host the Quebec Kebs.