Photo by Les Stukenberg.
Originally Published: November 26, 2016 6:01 a.m.
NAZ Suns vs Reno Bighorns 112516
PRESCOTT VALLEY – Two nights after suffering their first loss of the 2016-17 season, the Northern Arizona Suns gutted out a win late in the fourth quarter at home against the Reno Bighorns.
In an NBA Development League Western Conference Pacific Division clash Friday, Nov. 25, at Prescott Valley Event Center, the Suns beat the Bighorns, 95-86, to improve their record to 4-1 overall. NAZ is now tied with the L.A. D-Fenders for the division lead.
Suns guard Askia Booker scored 21 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. Johnny O’Bryant followed with 21 points. Eli Millsap (16 points) and Shaquille Harrison (15 points) also scored in double figures for NAZ.
With the Suns down 86-83 with 2 minutes and 38 seconds left in regulation, Booker carried the hosts on a 12-0 run to end the contest.
“It just shows some of our maturity, especially in the fourth quarter,” Booker said of the comeback. “The game was close – neck-and-neck – and we got necessary stops at the end. We pushed the ball down their throats and made some big plays.”
Booker scored seven of NAZ’s final 12 points. His deep 3-pointer tied it at 86-86 at the 2:05 mark, and his 3-point play handed the Suns the lead for good, 89-86, with 1:35 to go.
“Askia Booker – you guys are really seeing something special,” NAZ coach Ty Ellis said. “I’m really happy and blessed to be coaching a guy like Askia Booker. And I’m a witness. He literally told me [toward the end of the game], ‘Coach, smile. It’s OK. I got you.’ And he did.”
Harrison also came up big in the final 33 seconds. His behind-the-back jam off a Millsap steal was the exclamation point. Up 91-86 at that point, Booker won a jump ball with 27.4 seconds remaining that resulted in a foul. Harrison and Booker each converted a free throw in the final half minute and Harrison tacked on another jam to end it.
“It just takes discipline,” O’Bryant said of pulling out the victory. “We stayed together; didn’t get rattled. Some guys stepped up when we needed them. That’s all it was.”
NAZ looked sluggish for most of Friday’s game. The Suns were coming off a double-overtime loss to the L.A. D-Fenders, 142-135, on Wednesday night. That setback snapped a three-game winning streak to start the Suns’ inaugural campaign in Prescott Valley.
Although he didn’t start against the Bighorns, high-flying NAZ forward Derrick Jones Jr. was recalled from the Phoenix Suns on Friday afternoon after spending a week with the NBA team. His presence could prove beneficial as the season progresses.
“It was good [for us to go to 4-1], but we can’t fool ourselves,” Booker said. “It was an ugly win. Maybe we should’ve beat L.A. I’m happy, but not satisfied.”
The Bighorns were paced by center Kadeem Jack, who scored a team-high 18 points. Cameron Ayers followed with 16 points.
With the loss, Reno dropped to 1-5. The Bighorns, the D-League affiliate of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, hung around the entire contest until the final minute.
The Suns led only 41-38 at halftime and 65-61 at the end of the third period, and they were outplayed by the Bighorns for most of the fourth. To start the final frame, the Bighorns went on a 10-2 run. They grabbed a 71-67 lead with 7:40 remaining after an Ayers 3-pointer. Not until 5 minutes remained did NAZ tie it at 78-78 and set up the thrilling finish.
“I’m very thankful for the win, because wins are hard to come by in professional sports,” Ellis said. “But I’m not happy the way we won. I’m not happy at all. I’m more disappointed in this win than the loss in L.A., quite frankly.”
NAZ led 23-19 at the end of the first quarter of a back-and-forth affair. The Suns would fall behind in the middle of the second period. But with 3:05 left until halftime and the Suns trailing 38-33, they pieced together an 8-0 run to grab a 41-38 edge at the break. Elijah Millsap converted 4-of-4 free throws and Derek Cooke Jr. drained a pair of buckets to account for all of the Suns points in the spurt.
Next up, NAZ will host the Sioux Falls Skyforce (4-1 record) at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27, at PV Event Center. The Skyforce defeated the D-Fenders, 2-1, for the 2015-16 NBA D-League title.