Memphis Hustle head coach Jason March will quickly remind you when you ask him about his team being 7-0, “well, we’re really seven-and-a-half and oh,” referring to the game on Monday, Nov. 11 against Iowa when leakage from the Landers Center roof forced a halt to the contest with the Hustle leading the Wolves 56-41 in the second quarter.
Seven-and-a-half or 7-0, regardless, the Hustle are now the only unbeaten team in the NBA G League after its 119-96 demolition of the previously unbeaten Maine Red Claws (Celtics) on Monday, Nov. 25 at the Landers Center.
Memphis becomes the fourth team in the NBA G League history to win its first seven games in a season and have in sights the league record of nine straight season-opening wins set by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the 2003-04 season.
“Our guys were really locked in and they were ready to play,” March said after the victory. “Our guys came out and really played their hearts out.”
Third-year Hustle guard Dusty Hannahs led Memphis with a game-high 28 points, one of five players in double figures and one of three Memphis players with more than 20 points in the win.
“When he makes one or two, you have to go find him,” March said. ”Dusty keeps working and when he sees one or two go in, you have to go find him, so I think we did a good job of that.”
Memphis Grizzlies’ assignment player Josh Jackson scored 23 and two-way player Yuta Watanabe added 22 for the Hustle. Jarrod Uthoff scored 17 points and Nino Johnson came off the bench to contribute 10 more.
Johnson had to handle Maine’s 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall, who scored 16 points off the bench for the Red Claws, but Johnson held his own against the former player from Central Florida who was a half-foot taller.
“Nino came off the bench, had 11 rebounds in 19 minutes, the 11 that he got were huge for us and his minutes were very big for our team,” March said of the former Memphis White Station High School standout.
Memphis took a 35-29 lead after one quarter, but Maine rebounded in the second quarter to get within 58-56 at halftime. The second half was all Memphis, however, as the Hustle outscored the Red Claws 61-40 after intermission.
Much of the scoring eruption in the second half came thanks to Hannahs, the former Arkansas standout who has played all three years of the Hustle’s existence and also spent a brief time with the parent Grizzlies at the end of last season.
Hannahs describes the atmosphere in the locker room right now as very positive.
“We’re just reeling off each other, reeling off coach (March) and everybody, just having a good time playing basketball, just having a fun time,” said Hannahs.
Monday’s victory against Maine was the Hustle’s first win in three all-time meetings against the Red Claws.
The Hustle now risk their unbeaten streak in a Midwest Division battle against the Oklahoma City Blue (Thunder) (3-3) at the Landers Center, Saturday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. The Hustle edged the Blue 113-111 in the team’s first meeting of the year in Oklahoma on Friday, Nov. 22.
The Hustle trailed by as many as 16 in the first quarter, as Oklahoma City roared to a 13-2 lead to open the game. Memphis would chip away to cut the lead to six, but the Blue finished the quarter on a 10-2 run to push the lead to 33-19.
However, the Hustle would continue to chip away and took its first lead at 61-60 with 7:01 to play in the third. Oklahoma City responded immediately with an 8-0 run to regain a seven-point lead. The Hustle would tie the game multiple times early in the fourth, but the Blue maintained a two-possession lead for a large chunk of the second half.
With the Hustle trailing 111-106, Uthoff hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to two with 1:02 remaining. On the ensuing Oklahoma City possession, Jackson forced two-way player Luguentz Dort into a travel, setting up Uthoff to tie the game with a reverse layup at 37.8 seconds to go.
A missed Oklahoma City three on the next possession allowed the Hustle to play for the last shot. Matt Mooney drew a foul on Memphis’ final possession, knocking down both free throws with 6.1 seconds left before the Hustle sealed the game on the other end.
Jackson (25 points, 12 rebounds) and Uthoff (20 points, 10 rebounds) both finished with double-doubles to pace the Hustle.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.