The Storm, who defeated the league’s second-place team 112-102, received a standing ovation from the announced season-high crowd of 3,409 fans at EastLink Arena on Thursday night.
The win came thanks, in large part, to an electrifying fourth-quarter comeback that was built on solid defence.
“We executed our defensive game plan,” said Storm head coach Joe Salerno.
“It was tough for our big guys to switch out on their guards a lot, but we threw them a lot of different looks and I think it kept them guessing a little bit.
“It was one of the first times that we executed defensively, and did not give them any easy shots. In turn, it created a lot of defensive rebounds and allowed us to get out into transition, where I think we can be very good.”
The Storm, who improved to 10-16 (won-lost), are trying to gain ground on the Saint John Mill Rats for the fourth and final playoff spot in the seven-team league.
Saint John, however, also came up with a 116-109 win in Oshawa on Thursday, improving to 12-13.
The Rainmen sit in second place with a 16-7 record, and were coming off a home win against Summerside on Sunday.
Thursday night, Storm guard Stephen McDowell lit up the scoreboard with 20 points in the first half, helping his team to a 62-51 halftime lead. McDowell finished with a game-high 29 points.
Halifax had drawn to within two, 83-81, going into the final quarter.
The Rainmen would actually take a slim 94-93 lead with five minutes left in the game. Big defensive stops, along with key buckets from Troy Jackson, Mike Williams and Louie McCroskey, put the Storm back on top, where they stayed for the remainder of the game.
“We executed our defensive game plan. It was tough for our big guys to switch out on their guards a lot, but we threw them a lot of different looks and I think it kept them guessing a little bit. It was one of the first times that we executed defensively, and did not give them any easy shots. In turn, it created a lot of defensive rebounds and allowed us to get out into transition, where I think we can be very good.” - Storm head coach Joe Salerno
McCroskey continued his recent consistent play, finishing with 23 points and 16 rebounds.
“I think guys played with a bit of a chip on their shoulder tonight (Thursday),” said McCroskey. “We’re a good team when we want to be, and I feel like we were due for a win against that team.
“At this pro level you’ve got to focus on what you can do and bring to the team, and that’s just what I’ve been trying to do.”
Mike Williams, who suffered a dislocated shoulder earlier in the week, toughed out a 20-point, 13-rebound game. Al Stewart added another double-double, with 12 points and 12 assists.
Tyrone Levett led the Rainmen with 18 points, and Taliek Brown added 17.
The Storm play Halifax again Saturday at the Metro Centre. That game will be televised live on EastLink Television at 7 p.m.
“(The Rainmen) are still a top-two team in this league, and we have to play at our best to beat them,” said Salerno. “We were close to that tonight (Thursday). We still haven’t accomplished what we want to yet, but we took one step closer (Thursday).”
The Storm could have two key players return from the injured reserve Saturday night. Salerno said both Chris Cayole (ankle) and Eric Gilchrese (concussion) are expected to dress in Halifax.