Free Throws Doom Suns in Season Opening Loss
PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. - Everything was clicking for the Northern Arizona Suns on Saturday in their season opener against the Agua Caliente Clippers until the last minute of the game.
The Suns led for the entirety of the contest, right up until there was 0.7 seconds left, before losing 121-120 at the Findlay Toyota Center. Northern Arizona led by 26 points at one time in the game and had a 10-point lead with 1:05 remaining, but they couldn't hold on.
In the last minute, the Clippers outscored the Suns 13-2. The Suns went 2-of-8 from the free throw line and 0-of-3 from the field down the stretch. Down two with 4.2 seconds left, the Clippers went down the floor and hoisted up a three-point shot at the buzzer. It was off the mark, but after review, officials ruled Derrick Walton Jr. was fouled with 0.7 seconds left. He made all three free throws to win the game.
Jared Harper led the Suns with 34 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including 4-of-7 from distance, plus 6-of-7 from the free throw line, to go with eight assists, five rebounds and two steals. Harper's 34 points are the most points scored in a season opener in team history, surpassing Josh Gray's 30 points scored on Nov. 4, 2017, also vs. Agua Caliente.
Anthony Lawrence II achieved a double-double in his professional debut, recording 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting (5-8 3PT) and 13 rebounds. His 13 rebounds are the most in a Suns' season opener in team history, surpassing Johnny O'Bryant's 11 rebounds vs. Iowa on Nov. 12, 2016.
The Suns were hot right out of the gate tonight in front of 2,073 strong, as they scored the first 11 points of the game in the first 1:27. Northern Arizona quickly built a double-digit lead, ending the first frame up 36-24. To start the second quarter, the Suns went on an 18-4 run to go up 26 points, their largest lead of the game. The Clippers managed to cut it down to a 69-55 score at halftime. The rest of the game was a back-and-forth affair until the Clippers made the big push with one minute remaining.
The Suns outshot the Clippers 43-of-87 (.494) to 44-of-99 (.444), outshot them from distance 14-of-30 (.467) to 9-of-34 (.265) and outrebounded them 54-46. The Clippers returned the favor in points in the paint (64-46), turnovers (Suns had 25 TO's that led to 30 points) and free throws.
Agua Caliente's James Palmer Jr. paced all scorers with 40 points on 15-of-19 shooting (5-7 FT), to go with five rebounds. The whole Clippers starting five scored in double figures. Terry Larrier recorded 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting (6-11 3PT), 11 rebounds and three steals. Walton had 16 points (7-7 FT), 11 assists and two steals. Johnathan Motley tallied 15 points and eight rebounds, and Mfiondu Kabengele scored 10 points.
Phoenix Suns assignee Jalen Lecque finished with 14 points and three assists. Tariq Owens had 11 points (4-8 FG), eight rebounds, and a game-high +27 in plus-minus. Keljin Blevins (10 points, 5-7 FG, nine rebounds) and Daxter Miles Jr. (10 points, five rebounds) led the reserves.
The Suns get to stay at home for redemption, as their next game is on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. against the Texas Legends. The Clippers will play their home opener on Monday against the Oklahoma City Blue at 2 p.m. MT.
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