The Memphis Hustle returned to action from the NBA All-Star Game break and had to shake off some break time sluggishness before rallying against the Northern Arizona Suns Wednesday night at the Landers Center in Southaven.
However, Omari Johnson's career night with 30 points and a Hustle record eight three-point shots were one free throw too short in the Suns' 120-119 victory over the Hustle.
Memphis appeared out of sync and struggled, both offensively and defensively, against the Suns in the first quarter, which ended with a 40-25 Northern Arizona lead after 12 minutes of play.
The Hustle, now 15-25 in its inaugural season, recovered in the second quarter to get within 62-58 at intermission.
Northern Arizona extended the lead to 93-86 heading into the final period of play but the Hustle fought back to tie the game at 99-99 in the fourth quarter and had a 107-106 lead with 4:06 remaining.
But the Suns answered every advance and a free throw from Archie Goodwin with just 1.6 seconds remaining sealed the visitors' victory, which improved Northern Arizona's record to 18-19 for the year.
Johnson finished with 30 points for the night, was 11-of-19 from the floor and 8-of-13 from three-point range. The eight three-pointers set a team record for one game.
"You try to play the right way, try to take the open shots that you get and they were just falling today," Johnson said. "I don't go in there trying to get hot. I'm trying to do my part."
Hustle coach Glynn Cyprien added, "I think OJ is a call-up guy. I think he can shoot as well as anybody in the G League, certainly, and possibly in the NBA. He just needs a chance."
He was one of five Memphis players in double figures. Myke Henry came off the bench to score 26 points, Marquis Teague scored 19, Kobi Simmons 12 and Dusty Hannahs added 10 for the Hustle in the loss.
All five starters for Northern Arizona scored in double figures, led by Danuel House with 28 points. Lavoy Allen had a double-double for the Suns with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"Danuel House made some big plays," Cyprien said. "We know he's a shooter, but as good as he is offensively, there were some miscues for us on defense."
The contest saw eight lead changes and it was tied seven times. However, Northern Arizona's biggest lead in the win was 17 points, while the Hustle could only muster a one-point lead on a couple of occasions Wednesday night.
The Hustle shot over 50 percent from the field (52.3%) from the game, however, Northern Arizona forced 21 turnovers (24 points) while committing just 12 (13 points) and owned an 18-9 edge on the offensive glass, half of which came from Allen.
Memphis stays home this week and will host the Reno Bighorns Saturday, starting at 12 noon at the Landers Center, as the Hustle hope to break what is now a five-game losing streak.
Johnson's specific goals for the rest of the season do not involve extending three-point record.
I just want to get some wins," Johnson said. "I like to win, I do not like to lose. I want to bring these guys together to get some wins and finish the season strong."
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.