By Brett Poirier
SUMMERSIDE – The Summerside Storm have been dominating opponents – that wasn't the case Thursday, as the Moncton Miracles bested the hometown Storm 110 to 106.
With the loss the Storm fall to 18-12 (won-lost) on the season but remain safely at first place in the Atlantic Division. The game may have been more significant for the visitors, Moncton currently sits in fourth place in the Atlantic with their improved record of 16-20, but still face elimination from the playoffs.
Over 1,500 fans filed into Credit Union Place to see two of the more competitive teams go head-to-head in National Basketball League of Canada (NBL) action on a Valentine's special.
A tone was set early in this game, neither team wanted to give their opponent an edge. The scoring was back and fourth throughout the first, Summerside barely escaped the quarter with a lead.
A two-point lead in basketball is nothing and Moncton proved that when they went on a quick 6-0 run to open the second frame, forcing the Storm to call a timeout. Summerside regrouped and came back with their own run, and evened the score at 48 a piece heading into the halftime break.
By this point, the Storm’s leading scorer had already done serious damage to the Moncton defense, penetration for easy layups and pulling up for three’s. Brandon Robinson was leading his team and had scored 15 points by halftime.
“I look for my offense but I want to get other guys involved too,” said shooting guard Robinson. “Sometimes you’re hot and the guys know that, you have to keep shooting when you’re feeling it.”
The Storm have struggled all season in the third quarter of ball games and this was no exception. They allowed the Miracles to score 34 points in the period.
“Our defense killed us,” said Storm head coach Joe Salerno. “Our help defense wasn’t bad but it was all the second chance points that finished this game. When you constantly give a team a chance to clean up after themselves it makes it hard to win.”
Even after a tough third quarter things could be worse, Salerno’s team was stuck nine points (82-73) and had the crowd cheering them on. Summerside’s offense took a major surge at the beginning of the fourth, a huge run accompanied by Moncton’s defense collapsing propelled the Storm to the lead, erasing what was once a 14-point deficit. Fans were brought to their feet for the final three minutes of the game which saw Summerside up by a mere two points. In the blink of an eye, a quick three and four free throws put the game on ice and Moncton took a game that even they thought Summerside would win.
“There was a point where I thought it was over,” said Moncton center Isaac Butts. “We're a tough team and we just stuck with it until the end and look what happened.”
Isaac Butts couldn’t have played better for his Miracles squad, he was all over the glass with 18 rebounds and was a nightmare for the Summerside defense with 24. Not to be outdone, Devin Sweetney, NBL leading scorer, added 28 points but it took him 29 shots to do so.
Moncton coach Dennis Traux was proud by the way his team played and was hopeful that there’s more to come.
“Our weakness has been turnovers and free throws, however, this time around those weren’t a big issue for us,” said Traux. “Isaac Butts and Devin Sweetney were huge for us in the win and they’re really emerging as stars in the league.”
When asked about the importance of the game, Traux said, “If we lost we could have blown a shot at the playoffs, the bus ride here was quite because every guy was focused on getting the job done.”
Brandon Robinson finished the game with 25 but only shot 7/20 from the field, Robinson scored the rest at the free throw line going 8-12 from the charity stripe. Greg Plummer added 21 while Omari Johnson contributed 15 points and 13 boards.
The Storm won’t have much to rest because they will face the struggling Jazz in Montreal on Saturday at 7 p.m. Their next home stop comes on the P.E.I. holiday of Islander day at 2 p.m. as they welcome the Saint John Mill Rats to Eastlink Arena on Monday.