Friday sports: Hustle season ends with playoff loss to Vipers
Photo: Jacob Gilyard of the Memphis Hustle against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. (Michael Priest/desotocountynews.com)
Note: Photos from the Hustle game against the Vipers are available here.
Two points and some missed opportunities late kept the Memphis Hustle from moving on in the NBA G League Western Conference playoffs Friday, March 31 at FedExForum in Memphis.
Memphis, earned a bye in the first round by their second-place finish in the regular season, dropped a 110-108 decision to Rio Grande Valley Vipers before 1,961 fans who enjoyed basketball brunch in an 11 a.m. start at the Forum due to Monster Trucks set up for the weekend at the Landers Center in Southaven.
Neither team enjoyed a double digit lead at any time in the contest. Memphis led by as much as eight points and Rio Grande Valley also built an eight-point lead, but nothing further. There were 13 ties.
Kenneth Lofton Jr., a Memphis Grizzlies two-way player who before the game was announced as the G League’s Rookie of the Year, led all scorers with 24 points and added 10 rebounds. Lofton was one of five Hustle players who scored in double figures and Justin Bean’s 14 rebounds put him in double-double status with his 15 points. Dakota Mathias (18), Jacob Gilyard (16), and Jake LaRavia (11), also posted double figures on the scoreboard.
TyTy Washington, Jr. and Darius Days led the Vipers in scoring with 21 points. Of his 21 points, Days notched 20 in the first half, but was held to just one point before he fouled out in the fourth quarter. Four other RGV players hit double figures in the victory.
The Vipers took a 34-31 lead after one quarter as a Sean McDermott tip in at the buzzer got the Hustle within three points at the quarter’s end. RGV then led 66-62 at halftime. The Hustle outscored the Vipers 23-20 in the third quarter to get within 86-85 going into the final quarter of play.
Hustle coach Jason March shook his head looking at the stat sheet, especially the Hustle’s dismal 27 percent shooting from three-point range at 11 of 40 for the game.
“We were getting great looks but the ball wasn’t falling for us like it usually does,” March said. “We went 11 for 40 from three, 27 percent and that’s tough for us because we rely on that. We needed those shots to fall for us tonight and it didn’t happen.”
Lofton has been one of many reasons for the Hustle’s success when he’s been with the team and not wearing the Grizzlies’ Beale Street blue.
In 17 appearances in the regular season, he averaged 20.2 points per game, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals. Lofton scored a career-high 33 points against Delaware on Feb. 3.
Undrafted out of Louisiana Tech in the 2022 NBA Draft, Lofton signed a two-way contract with the Grizzlies in July of 2022.
March said he tried to get the ball to Lofton in the final moments of the game.
“Kenny is obviously tough to guard down there,” March said. “I thought they (Vipers) did a really good job on him.”
“I made some mistakes, we made some mistakes as a team and we didn’t get that rebound at the end with two opportunities,” Lofton said about the final moments of the game when key shots wouldn’t fall.
Rio Grande Valley got to the second round after the Vipers defeated the South Bay Lakers 124-122 Wednesday night, March 29. In the G League playoff, the Vipers have one more elimination game for the Western Conference championship and a spot in the G League finals against the Eastern Conference winner.
On Sunday, Rio Grande Valley plays at Sioux Falls, South Dakota against the Vipers in that elimination conference championship game with the winner moving on to a best-of-three finals against the Eastern Conference champ, either Delaware or Long Island.