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The Halifax Hurricanes are off the schneid thanks to their newcomers.
A 36-point third quarter sparked the Hurricanes to their first victory of the NBL Canada season, a 96-88 decision over the Saint John Riptide on Thursday night at Scotiabank Centre.
The trio of players who signed with the Hurricanes earlier this week each had a hand in the win. Robinson Odoch Opong came off the bench to score 10 points in the third. Rhamel Brown, in his return to Halifax, had four rebounds and three steals in limited action. And former league MVP Gabe Freeman added 15 points and four boards.
“This is Game 1 for us. I was a little rusty but for my first game, I feel pretty good,” Freeman said of his Halifax debut.
“Our third quarter has been our weakest and we knew that coming in. We made sure we had that extra pep in our step when we came back after the half.
“Now we finally have a team together,” he added. “In this league you have to have veterans, especially to win games down the stretch. Now we have Ro (Brown) back, along with me, Clink (Cliff Clinkscales), Poo (Mike Poole). We just have to put it together and work with what we have."
Jordan Washington had a team-high 16 points for Halifax, which entered the game having dropped its first two games of the season, each to the Moncton Magic.
Joel Kindred added 14 points while Malcolm Duvivier had a dozen.
The Hurricanes bench finished with 48 points in the game.
Brown, a defensive dynamo in his first season with Halifax during the 2017-18 campaign, said the Hurricanes’ depth will be key this season.
“We have a lot of guys who can step up,” Brown said. “We have so much talent on this team, we can rotate guys in and out.
“It was a little rough for me, being the first game and no training camp. But the other guys did a great job stepping up. I know if I don’t have it going, someone will be there to step up and have my back.”
Like the -21 C wind chill outside the arena, the Hurricanes’ shooting was frigid to start the game.
The hosts failed to score on their first eight possessions, missing six straight shots, and trailed 10-0 at the 7:28 mark before Freeman scored his first basket with the Hurricanes.
Halifax managed to claw back and knot the score at 21-all after one quarter of play.
Neither team put on a shooting clinic in the opening frame. Saint John was 8-for-19 in the quarter while Halifax drained just eight of its 20 attempts.
Both teams struggled to get comfortable in the first half, with the Riptide holding onto a narrow 45-42 lead at the half.
The Hurricanes also struggled in the paint. Saint John held a 31-19 advantage in rebounds after 24 minutes of play and 59-44 overall.
The addition of Freeman — a former Riptide who’s the league’s all-time leading rebounder — and the return of Brown, who led the league in blocks, was third in rebounding and was named to the NBL Canada’s all-defensive team, is expected to correct that deficiency.
“It’s all about getting back to the core values of winning, playing together and, most importantly, playing defence,” said the six-foot-seven Brown. “It’s a long season so we can't be too worried about the bumps early on as long as we are on the right path.”
After several lead changes and mini comebacks, the Hurricanes returned from the intermission with an extra hop in their step. They closed out the third quarter on a 15-6 run and 78-69 lead.
The 33-year-old Freeman, the 2012 regular season and playoff MVP while with the London Lightning who split last season between Saint John and a team in Iraq's top professional league in Baghdad, is ecstatic to find a new home in Halifax.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play with Scales (Clinkscales) and a point guard like him and a player's coach like Coach (Mike) Leslie and to play in a city like Halifax,” the six-foot-six forward said. “What more can I ask for?”
Chris Early scored 20 points and Kemy Osse had 16 for the Riptide, who drop to 0-2. Renaldo Dixon, a former Hurricane, had four points and seven rebounds in his return to Halifax.
Notes: The teams play again Sunday afternoon in Saint John. Tyrone Watson (knee) did not dress for Halifax.