PRESCOTT VALLEY – The Northern Arizona Suns found themselves in a big hole early in the game and late in the contest, and managed to come all the way back both times before falling in double overtime.
The Suns lost to the Los Angeles D-Fenders at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, 142-135 and dropped their first game of the season, falling to 3-1 on the year.
The D-Fenders came out of the gates in front of the 264 fans in attendance scorching hot from the field, shooting 16-for-26 (61.5 percent) in the first quarter and continued that throughout the first 24 minutes before heading into the locker room at halftime shooting 28-for-42 (66.7 percent). The D-Fenders even built a 31-point cushion at one point, leading 73-42 with 1:48 left in the second quarter.
Somehow, the Suns were able to come all the way back.
It was clear when both teams got back on the court after halftime that the Suns were working furiously on defense and picked up the energy. The Suns won the third frame 31-23, and were within striking distance of making it a game. That they did, as they outscored the D-Fenders 35-21 in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Shaquille Harrison hit a two-foot floating bank jump shot with 2.3 seconds remaining in regulation to tie it and give the team three extra minutes for a chance to win.
It was all D-Fenders for most of the overtime period, and they led the Suns 128-121 with 36.2 seconds left. Again, the Suns were able to come back. Josh Gray and Askia Booker each hit a three-point field goal on the next two Suns’ possessions, the Suns made their next four free throws after that, and then Booker hit a driving shot to make it a two-point game with 9.5 seconds left.
Derek Cooke Jr. then stole the ball, and the Suns were able to turn a funky play into two points on a nifty Cooke reverse-layup with 4.5 seconds remaining and force the game into a second overtime.
The D-Fenders followed by pulling away for good, and didn’t allow the Suns to score in the final three minutes of the game.
Los Angeles Lakers second-round pick (32nd overall) Ivica Zubac was an immediate force in the paint, scoring 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the first quarter, and getting the Suns starting center Johnny O’Bryant into early foul trouble. Zubac finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Vander Blue led the D-Fenders with 26 points on 6-of-14 shooting, including 12-of-18 from the free throw line. Justin Harper had a double-double (21 points and 12 rebounds), as did David Nwaba off the bench, as he recorded 19 points and 11 rebounds, including a thunderous and-1 dunk to get the crowd on its feet in the second frame.
The Suns were led by Booker and Elijah Millsap, who each scored 35 points. Booker got his on 14-of-30 shooting, to go along with 10 assists and three steals. Millsap achieved his on 13-of-22 shooting, and recorded five assists and four steals.
Harrison played in his first game since the season-opener, and scored 12 points, while Cooke played the most off the bench and contributed a double-double of his own, with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Johnny O’Bryant fouled out of the game after scoring all 11 of his points in the third quarter.
The Suns have Thanksgiving game-free and play the Reno Bighorns at the Prescott Valley Event Center on Friday at 7 p.m. The D-Fenders enjoy a two-day break before heading to Rio Grande Valley to take on the Vipers on Saturday at 7 p.m. local time.