It took Les Berry just four days to accomplish what the Halifax Rainmen have been chasing for 15 months.
The Halifax native, hired as head coach of the Rainmen on Thursday, orchestrated a 108-97 triumph over the Vermont Frost Heaves yesterday, the franchise’s first win over their toughest Premier Basketball League rival.
The Rainmen had failed in nine previous attempts against the Frost Heaves dating back to November 2007.
Energized by the return of star forward Eric Crookshank from a seven-game suspension, the Rainmen showcased a more dynamic offence, tighter defence and renewed intensity. The excitement came with 4,012 in the stands, the largest crowd in franchise history outside of a home opener.
“We all love this coach,” raved Crookshank afterward. “We know we’ve got the coach we need now, and we’re all saying the same thing, ‘Let’s go out and fight for him.’”
Berry spent his handful or practices instilling stronger defensive principles in the Rainmen, and it showed. They allowed fewer than 100 points for just the second time all year, including a season-low 14 points against in the second quarter. “You know what the difference was, coaching,” said Rainmen guard Tony Bennett.
“No offence to (former head coach) Rick Lewis, but coach (Berry) knew exactly what he was doing when he came here and made us buy into it.” The team watched video of the Frost Heaves before the game.
“With the prep we did, we knew where they were going to be before they got there,”
Croookshank said, adding that Berry’s new offensive sets were “unbelievable.”
Crookshank subbed in midway through the first quarter and the Rainmen went on a 17-3 run to grab the lead.
Although Vermont narrowed the lead to one point in the fourth quarter, the Rainmen closed them out. Bennett was marvelous, finishing with a team-best 28 points and five assists, and Brian Silverhorn went 5-of-7 from three-point range for 25 points.
Crookshank finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
“This whole week felt like Christmas,” Crookshank quipped. “Today I finally opened my presents.”
So if the Rainmen progressed as they think they did in four days under Berry, where could they be in a month?
“One word,” said Bennett. “Championship.”
• Halifax, 7-5, is still third in the Atlantic Conference … The Rainmen played most of the game without star Rob Sanders, who subbed out with a hip injury … Berry has hired former King’s College head coach Jeff Paris as an assistant.