NAZ Suns rout Bighorns
PRESCOTT VALLEY — On the night of standout guard Xavier “The X-Man” Silas’ anticipated 2016-17 season debut, the Northern Arizona Suns did not disappoint.
Seven Suns scored in double figures as NAZ won its campaign-high fourth straight game, 130-106, over the Reno Bighorns Saturday, Dec. 3, at Prescott Valley Event Center.
Silas, who missed the Suns’ first seven games for the birth of his child, said he was comfortable.
“It felt good – I fit in pretty well,” Silas said afterward. “The energy is there. I’m just trying to come in and play with the same energy that these guys have been playing with all season.”
NAZ converted 10 3-pointers and shot 54 percent from the field, boosted by a monster second half. The Suns scored 46 points in the third quarter and 37 more in the fourth.
Elijah Millsap and Derrick Jones Jr. scored 21 points each to pace NAZ offensively. Millsap added five assists.
Askia Booker (18 points), Josh Gray (17 points, six assists), Derek Cooke Jr. (12 points, 6-for-6 from the field), Michael Bryson (11 points, three 3-pointers) and Shaquille Harrison (10 points) also stood out in front of 1,378 fans.
Silas finished with nine points, four rebounds and a steal.
“Xavier coming back to the team, because it’s a competition, it makes everybody else step up their game,” NAZ coach Ty Ellis said. “Xavier stretching the floor really helped us out, and he’s a consummate professional.”
The NBA Development League Western Conference Pacific Division-leading Suns improved their record to 7-1 overall and 5-0 at home. Reno dropped to 2-7.
NAZ began a season-high five-game home stand, one that will last through Dec. 14, on the right note.
In front 93-71 to start the fourth, it was all Suns from there.
The rally started when NAZ opened the third period on an 8-0 run for a 55-43 lead with 8:55 left. NAZ then pulled away behind a Shaq Harrison 3-pointer, a jumper from Silas and two authoritative jams by Cooke Jr. for a 74-58 edge with 4 minutes to go. Silas then drained a 3-pointer for an 80-63 Suns advantage with 2:50 left.
“We turned it up in the second half a little bit,” Silas said. “We came out and went on a run, and there was no looking back from there.”
Cooke Jr. later added a third jam and Booker drained a 3-pointer at the 24-second shot clock buzzer for a 91-68 lead with 20 ticks left. The Suns looked like an entirely different unit from the first half to the second half.
“We came inside here [the locker room] at halftime and our coaches got our minds right – told us we have to stick to our defensive principles and what we do best,” Cooke Jr. said.
Added Jones Jr., “In the second half we came out with a different intensity, a different mentality.”
The Suns were ahead only 47-43 at halftime after a tight second period. Reno briefly took the lead 3 minutes in. But after being tied at 35-35 with 6:52 to go, NAZ never trailed the rest of the half. A Johnny O’Bryant 3-point play and a 3-pointer from Millsap buoyed the hosts.
In the first quarter, athletic forward Jones Jr. skied for a one-handed jam that was worthy of an ESPN SportsCenter Top Play. Jones Jr. was fouled on the alley-oop from Millsap and converted a 3-point play that gave NAZ a 16-15 lead inside of 6:30 left in the period.
“It was crazy,” Jones Jr. said of the dunk. “I saw a dude there [in front defending me]. But usually when I jump and they jump, it’s never a problem for me. That was probably one of my best dunks I’ve ever had in a game.”
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