By Ron Barry
SAINT JOHN, N.B. – The Saint John Mill Rats looked every bit like a championship contender in the National Basketball League of Canada after sweeping weekend contests at Harbour Station.
Joe Posey drained a three-pointer with 35 seconds on the clock, and the Mill Rats withstood a furious Storm assault in the final seconds to edge Summerside 108-106 on Sunday in a battle for first place in the Atlantic Conference. Saturday, Saint John posted a 127-101 win over the Moncton Miracles.
The Mill Rats ran their winning streak to five games, leaving them atop the division at 9-7 (won-lost). Summerside fell to 9-8, Moncton is 9-10 and Halifax is 7-9.
In the Central Conference, the reigning champs from London have a league-best 14-1 record, and is followed by Oshawa (10-6), Windsor (6-10) and the hapless Montreal Jazz (0-13).
Harbour Station was Posey’s gym Sunday as the James Maddison product hit five three-pointers and had a team-high 23 points. Anthony Anderson had 19 points and seven assists and Sheray Thomas had 18 points and nine rebounds. Other Mill Rats in double figures were Melvin Council with 16 and Jerice Crouch with 15.
It was the second game in a row between the two teams that Posey had an impact on the outcome. In Summerside on Dec. 14, he hit five three-pointers in the fourth quarter to spark the Mill Rats to a 119-113 come-from-behind victory.
Summerside got 24 points from Brandon Robinson, 23 from Greg Plummer and 17 from Chris Cayole. Antonio Ballard chipped in with 16 points and was a monster on the boards, hauling in 19 rebounds.
“Joe Posey’s been showing up since he got here. He’s not just a one-dimensional player – he can hit shots, play defence and get rebounds. He’s a talented player who can play four positions. That helps maximize us as a team.” - Mill Rats head coach David Cooper
Summerside grabbed a 55-49 halftime lead, thanks in large part to Cayole’s 11-point second quarter off the bench. The Mill Rats relied too much on the three-point shot – a focus of head coach David Cooper’s halftime pep talk.
“We shot too much from behind the arc – we can’t live and die with the three-point shot,” he said. “I told them we needed to get the ball to the paint, by drives or by posting up. We needed to get into a rhythm offensively. We did a better job of that in the second half.”
The Mill Rats outscored Summerside 32-26 in the third quarter as the teams went into the final 12 minutes knotted at 81-81.Saint John put together a 10-3 run to go up 91-84, but the Storm fought back to take a 102-101 lead with two minutes left. Two clutch hoops by Crouch set the table for Posey’s long-range swish in the final minute.
“Joe Posey’s been showing up since he got here,” said Cooper. “He’s not just a one-dimensional player – he can hit shots, play defence and get rebounds. He’s a talented player who can play four positions. That helps maximize us as a team.”
The Storm returns home for a three-game homestand over the Christmas holidays, beginning with a Boxing Day matinee against the Halifax Rainmen at 2 p.m. Moncton visits on Friday at 7 p.m., and Montreal is at Eastlink Arena for a New Year’s Eve game at 7 p.m.