NAZ Suns comeback bid falls short in 117-115 loss to Nets

Missed backcourt violation potentially costs Suns the game

Northern Arizona's Josh Gray shoots a jumper against a Long Island Nets defender Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, in Prescott Valley. Gray finished with 24 points off the bench in a 117-115 loss. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Northern Arizona's Josh Gray shoots a jumper against a Long Island Nets defender Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, in Prescott Valley. Gray finished with 24 points off the bench in a 117-115 loss. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

For all the possessions during a typical NBA Gatorade League game on any given night, it can be difficult to point out one exact moment and blame a loss on it.

Well, that wasn’t so hard for the Northern Arizona Suns to do Thursday night with a 115-114 lead, watching not three, but four referees miss what looked like an obvious backcourt violation by the Long Island Nets with 22.9 seconds left.

The Nets were not called for the mishap, and after a timeout, a fumbled rebound happened to bounce into the waiting hands of Jacob Wiley, who knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner on what would be the eventual game winner.

Shaquille Harrison had 27 points on 11 of 18 shooting from the field, Josh Gray chipped in with 24 points, but the Suns struggled early defensively and couldn’t dig themselves out of an early 15-point deficit in a 117-115 loss to the Nets in Prescott Valley.

It is the second straight loss for Northern Arizona (2-3), which has lost all three games this season by a combined total of 11 points.

Head coach Cody Toppert was not pleased after the game.

“It was a backcourt violation and that’s unfortunate. We’ve taken the initiative with a fourth official, the game is on the line, people put a lot into this,” Toppert said. “Did we have other opportunities along the way? There’s no doubt about it, but to have it ripped out from under you is just heartbreaking.”

Toppert added his club will “move on” to the next one, finding motivation from within and focusing on playing a better game from start to finish.

“But when that happens,” Toppert said about the missed call. “That’s just unacceptable.”

Northern Arizona found itself trailing 18-3 in first 3:50 of Thursday night’s contest thanks to Nets guard Milton Doyle, who hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter.

“Just shoot it,” Doyle said on his mentality with the ball. “[I] got a lot of open looks and the coaches tell me to take those open looks and don’t pass up too many shots.”

Doyle, a former Loyola-Chicago standout, finished with 34 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the field, including eight 3-pointers.

Wiley scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds and had four assists for the Nets (3-2), which shot 49.4 percent from the field (44 of 89), including 17 3-pointers.

Northern Arizona shot 52.5 percent from the field (42 of 80), and hit 18 of 26 from the free-throw line.

Harrison, who added five rebounds to his season-high 27 points in 32 minutes off the bench, said losing these close games is “frustrating.”

“But it’s things we can fix. It’s not like we’re getting blown out, we’re right there, we’re losing by two, three points,” Harrison said. “That’s an easy swing, a couple plays go our way, a couple executions, a couple stops, we’re right there.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Suns announced earlier this week the acquisition of forward Malik Dime from the available player pool.

Dime, a former Washington standout and All-Pac-12 defensive team player, made the Windy City Bulls’ roster out of training camp as a local tryout, playing 8 minutes in their preseason game before being waived Nov. 2. To make room on the roster, Northern Arizona waived forward Zack Andrews.

Mike Young, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward for the Washington Wizards, was transferred to the Suns under the league’s flexible two-way contract rule. Young played 20 minutes, scoring just two points in Thursday night’s loss.

UP NEXT

Northern Arizona hits the road to play the winless Salt Lake City Stars (0-5) on Saturday, Nov. 18. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Brian M. Bergner Jr. is sports editor for The Daily Courier, the Prescott Valley Tribune and the Chino Valley Review. Follow him on Twitter at @SportsWriter52 or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Email bbergner@prescottaz.com or call (928) 445-3333, ext. 1106.