Originally Published: December 9, 2016 11:18 p.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY – The Northern Arizona Suns remained perfect at the Prescott Valley Event Center on Friday night, Dec. 9, improving their home record to 7-0 and their overall mark to an NBA Development League-best 9-1.
Johnny O’Bryant scored a team-high 20 points, leading NAZ to a 111-106 victory over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in Western Conference play.
The Vipers dropped to 8-4 overall after the Suns registered the two-game sweep. NAZ defeated Rio Grande 110-101 on Wednesday. In the process, the Suns extended their winning streak to six games.
Three other Suns scored in double figures, including Elijah Millsap with 19 points, Askia Booker with 17 points, Josh Gray with 15 points and Derrick Jones Jr. with 10 points. Jones Jr. also had nine rebounds. Millsap dished seven assists and poured in three 3-pointers.
“In the fourth quarter, we just kind of grinded it out,” NAZ forward Derek Cooke Jr. said. “We knew we were in foul trouble, tired, sore, injured. There’s just a lot going on, but we knew what we stood for. We’re a tough, disciplined team, so that’s what stood out.”
Trailing 83-78 at the end of the third quarter, NAZ went on a 9-2 run from the 2:40 mark to the 1:13 juncture of the fourth quarter that sealed a tight contest. The Suns will play their fourth game in eight days today.
“We just battled, man,” O’Bryant added. “We probably were a little fatigued coming into tonight – so many games in a short time. But overall, we’ve just got a bunch of dogs and we battle.”
The Suns committed 17 turnovers, but gutted it out in front of 1,313 fans.
“We’re tired. We’re tired,” NAZ coach Ty Ellis reiterated afterward. “And the guys have to be smarter, and I have to coach better. It’s a combination of everybody growing, everybody getting better.”
Michael Bryson knocked down two big 3-pointers, and two free throws from Booker gave the Suns an 85-84 edge with 9:37 left.
An ailing Jones Jr. made a couple of key plays down the stretch, as did Millsap and Booker. Jones Jr., who re-aggravated a right wrist injury from Wednesday’s game in the first period, converted a 3-point play with 2:17 remaining that put NAZ in front 105-99.
“It ain’t no bother – I’m good,” said Jones Jr., who initially injured the wrist last Friday while dunking. “It’s a battle wound. You’ve got to fight through it. It’s something that’s not going to stop me from playing.”
In the third period, the Suns were outscored 33-22 before turning the tables in the fourth. NAZ outscored the Vipers 33-23 in the final period to keep their win streak intact.
“I told the guys we gave up 33 points in the third quarter, and they got mad at themselves,” Ellis said. “And so that tells you that they want it just as bad as I do.”
Friday’s contest began sloppily, as both teams struggled hanging onto the ball. But NAZ hit some timely shots, including draining 11 3-pointers for the contest. They struggled at the free-throw line, however, netting only 18-of-34.
The Suns trailed or were briefly tied throughout the first quarter and until the 10-minute mark of the second period, when they took a 32-30 lead. It was back and forth from there until halftime. Tied at 44-44 with 3:29 to go in the second period, NAZ went on a 12-6 run for a 56-50 lead at intermission.
Despite converting only 5-of-14 free throws in the first half, the Suns compensated for it in part by collecting rebounds on some of those misses. In the final 1:30 of the opening half, there was an O’Bryant jam, a Gray bucket at the 24-second shot clock buzzer, and a step-back 3-pointer from Booker that sparked the hosts.
NAZ survived a bit of a scare in the opening period. Up 34-33 with 9:02 left until halftime, Jones Jr. was fouled hard on a dunk and appeared to hurt his right wrist on a fall underneath the basket.
He missed two ensuing free throws and was visibly wincing in pain near midcourt afterward. He stayed in the game briefly before exiting for the rest of the half.
Next up, NAZ will play host to the Iowa Energy at 7 p.m. today, Dec. 10, at the PV Event Center.