PRESCOTT VALLEY — Students from the Prescott, Humboldt, Chino Valley, Clarkdale-Jerome, Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Flagstaff unified school districts weren’t bashful about cheering on the Northern Arizona Suns against the visiting Salt Lake City Stars on Tuesday.
In the late morning and into the early afternoon of Jan. 22, they cheered rabidly after every Suns (6-25) field goal and free-throw conversion. And whenever prompted over the P.A. to stand and sing, dance or chant – merrily shouting “Dee-FENSE! Dee-FENSE!” for example – these boys and girls came through.
Although the Suns couldn’t extend their 2018-19 season-long three-game winning streak, losing 95-88 to the Stars after being outscored 8-1 in overtime, you got the feeling that the more than 2,000 kids who traveled to Findlay Toyota Center enjoyed the NBA G League experience.
In other words, throw Northern Arizona’s Western Conference-worst 6-25 record out the window. Area schoolkids loved watching Tuesday's second annual Kids Day Game, and maybe that’s what mattered.
“It was fun having the kids – they were excited and they were making a lot of noise,” Northern Arizona’s Hollis Thompson said. “It was good just looking back and seeing a lot of people excited.”
Injury-plagued Salt Lake City, which ended a two-game slide and went without Two-Way players Tyler Cavanaugh and Naz Mitrou-Long (currently with the NBA parent club Jazz), moved above .500 at 14-13.
On Tuesday, four Northern Arizona players scored in double figures, led by Thompson’s 21 points and five rebounds. George King followed with 17 points, three steals and nine rebounds.
Khadeem Lattin, acquired in a trade with Raptors 905 Jan. 15, tallied a double-double of 12 points, 12 rebounds and four assists off the bench in his second game with Northern Arizona. Jawun Evans added 15 points, seven assists, and three steals, despite committing seven of the Suns’ 18 turnovers.
“They pressured us a lot down the stretch and kind of took us out of our rhythm, and we couldn’t re-find it,” Thompson said.
The Stars also had four players in double figures. Shonn Miller’s 18 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks paced the visitors. Trevon Bluiett registered 16 points, seven boards and two steals.
“We moved the ball, got downhill,” Salt Lake’s Tanner McGrew said of the difference in overtime. “At the end of regulation, we got a little stagnant – just passed the ball around the key and shot a jump shot – whereas [in OT] we were really getting to the hoop.”
Jairus Lyles came off the bench with 16 points, six rebounds and two assists. Salt Lake coach Martin Schiller said Lyles’ presence late was a game-changer.
“We put in Jairus Lyles 2 minutes before the end because we needed some scoring,” he added. “And then we kind of found one play that was working – we moved the basketball twice before we attacked – and that was it.”
Both teams shot 44 percent from the field, but the Stars converted 11 3-pointers to the Suns’ eight, and converted 16 of 21 free throws to the Suns’ 10 of 15. And NAZ, which tired as the game wore on, struggled with ball control in the fourth quarter and in OT, turning it over at crucial junctures as the Stars pressed.
“We had trouble finding our composure and being disciplined in what we did,” Suns coach Bret Burchard said. “They [Stars] did a good job of taking us out of what we want to do – playing different rotations that changed how we want to play.”
Suns guard Daniel Dixon, who’s made 10 starts this season, remained out of the lineup with a left foot injury. Backup point guard Retin Obasohan (left shoulder) also didn’t dress.
For Salt Lake, which swept the three-game series with the Suns this season, Tre’Shaun Fletcher (left knee) and Trey Lewis (thumb) were out, too.
Northern Arizona visits the Texas Legends (10-20) at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25.
Salt Lake travels to the Agua Caliente Clippers (13-13) for an 8 p.m. tipoff on Thursday, Jan. 24.
Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.