Second-half woes continue to plague NAZ Suns in loss to Stars
Coach Ellis: ‘That team wanted it more’
PRESCOTT VALLEY — Derek Cooke Jr. collected his first double-double of the season, Gracin Bakumanya chipped in with 11 points and eight rebounds, but Northern Arizona shot a dismal 31 percent in the second half and lost 115-92 to Salt Lake City on Wednesday night.
It is the fifth straight loss for the Suns, which were 3-0 against the Stars this season before Wednesday night and have now posted back-to-back losses against two clubs sporting the worst records in the NBA D-League.
Tied 52-52 at halftime, Stars’ center Joel Bolomboy capped a 19-8 run to begin the third quarter with an alley-oop slam and the Suns never recovered.
“We’re playing selfish on the defensive end. We’re not helping the helper. We don’t have our brother’s back,” Suns head coach Tyrone Ellis said. “That team wanted it more, it doesn’t matter that we beat them three times before.”
Bolomboy finished with 17 points, including a 7 for 9 mark from the free-throw line, and grabbed 16 rebounds.
Despite a double-double effort, Cooke said it wasn’t enough, and that he needs to live up to his team’s expectations of him.
“I should always try to improve, and never be content with what I’m doing,” Cooke said, adding the only way the Suns can snap out of this mid-season funk is to “stay together.”
“We have to find that ‘next guy up’ mentality,” Cooke said.
The former Wyoming standout finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes played off the bench.
Elijah Millsap led the Suns (12-15) with 15 points on 5 of 17 shooting, and grabbed seven rebounds. Xavier Silas had 14 points, while point guard Askia Booker struggled, hitting just 1 of 16 shot attempts to finish with three points.
For Salt Lake City (9-20), Sundiata Gaines and Tyrone Wallace each scored 22 points, while Diamond Stone finished with 17 off the bench.
Stars’ head coach Dean Cooper said Northern Arizona plays a “totally different style” than his group, so they ramped up their physicality in practice to match the Suns.
“Early on in the year, that was one thing we struggled with,” Cooper said. “I give Ty [Ellis] credit, they’ve gone through a rough stretch, we’ve gone through them. They play hard.”
With the absence of power forward Johnny O’Bryant, who signed a 10-day contract with the Denver Nuggets a week ago, Northern Arizona traded for some help in the post Tuesday, acquiring Alex Davis from the Erie BayHawks in exchange for a 2017 second-round draft pick.
Suns general manager Bubba Burrage said the club was looking to add another big man even before O’Bryant’s call up to the NBA.
“We were playing Elijah at the four spot quite a bit defensively. To his credit, he held that down. We did feel we needed to get a little bigger,” Burrage said. “With Alex, we add some length, and our component is we like to keep our athleticism, and he has that.”
Ellis believes Davis’ length and athleticism will be an asset for the Suns moving forward.
“He’s young and he’s eager. I love guys that are hungry and humble at the same time. He fits in good with our culture, he’s a welcomed piece,” Ellis said, adding Davis will suit up this weekend against Santa Cruz.
Undrafted out of Fresno State, Davis played 78 total games for the BayHawks after making the team through an open tryout prior to the 2015-2016 season.
“It’s been different to adjust to,” Davis said about a whirlwind 24 hours. “I came in with the guys today, it’s a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. I look forward to getting out there with [the Suns] and help turn this thing around.”
At 6-foot-9, 210 pounds, Davis may fit in a big-man rotation featuring Bakumanya, Cooke and Daniel Alexander.
Northern Arizona wraps up a short two-game home stand this weekend, welcoming Santa Cruz (16-12) to Prescott Valley on Saturday, Feb. 4.
The Suns are 0-2 against the Warriors this season. Official tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Brian M. Bergner Jr. is an associate sports editor for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Reach him by phone at 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.