Photo: A look at some of the more than 6,000 schoolchildren who attended Thursday’s Memphis Hustle-Mexico City Capitanes game. (Bob Bakken/desotocountynews.com)
Beyond the final score and the 10:30 a.m. start time, one number from Thursday’s Memphis Hustle-Mexico City Capitanes NBA G League basketball game stood out more than any other: 6,330. That was the attendance figure for an annual kids’ day game the team holds and invites area school children to come to.
For a team that nightly struggles to attract more fans to come to the Landers Center than to a local high school basketball game, the reverberation of screams from the more than 6,000 youngsters could have been a shock to the system for those players who took the floor.
“It was fun,” said Hustle coach Jason March. “It adds and gives our guys energy. It was great to finally have some people in the seats.”
But in a game that meant either a second-place tie in the Western Conference or falling two games behind the Capitanes, staying in third, and falling further behind the first-place Stockton Kings, the Hustle (12-5) shook off the initial shock and went on to defeat Mexico City (13-6) 111-99.
“Our guys really found energy, played and competed the right way,” said March. “This was really a great challenge for us. Our energy and competition level was really high for this game.”
The win put the teams into a second-place tie in the West; both teams are now one game behind Stockton.
With two-way players Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Vince Williams Jr., along with rookie Kennedy Chandler all having been called up to the Memphis Grizzlies’ roster, it was Dakota Mathias who stepped up to lead the Hustle with 22 points in the win, including 5-of-9 from outside the arc. Power forward Justin Bean stepped up late and finished with 21 points, as did Sean McDermott, who finished with 17. Matt Hurt chipped in 14 points and had the day’s only double-double for the Hustle, bringing down 12 rebounds.
Memphis quickly recovered after falling behind 5-0 and took a 40-24 lead after one quarter, which Capitanes cut to 64-48 at halftime. Memphis was held to just 19 points in the third quarter as Mexico City 83-75 at the end of the quarter, but the Hustle to put the game away in the final 12 minutes of the contest.
Rigoberto Mendoza, an undrafted rookie from the Dominican Republic, led the Capitanes with a game-high 29 points, while Gary Clark added 23.
The annual contest, titled the Financial Literacy Game, was sponsored for the first time this year by Ambetter Health, a health insurance provider for 27 states, mostly in the southern half of the United States, including Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The concept is similar to the Face Off Field Trip hockey games the Mississippi RiverKings had that sold out the then-DeSoto Civic Center for years with schoolchildren. Thursday ended a four-game homestand where the Hustle went 3-1, defeating Delaware in overtime then losing to the Blue Coats the next night, followed by a win Tuesday over Birmingham. Mathias was the team’s leading scorer for the second-straight contest, having tied Lofton for top honors with 20 in the Hustle’s win Tuesday against Birmingham. Mathias has led the Hustle in scoring on four occasions this season. Thursday’s 6,330 attendance was the second-highest crowd the Hustle have played for this year after the 6,516 that came for the team’s game at Iowa in mid-January. The other game where the Hustle played for more than 6,000 fans was at Texas Jan. 7, when 6,118 came out. Tuesday’s game against Birmingham had a regular season-low 539 in attendance at the Landers Center. Only one home regular season game has had more than 1,000 come out and that was the opener against South Bay on Dec. 29. During the Showcase Cup, 1,395 came to the Landers Center for the initial game of the series against Lakeland, while 482 fans were in the building for the Showcase Cup game of Nov. 29 against the Texas Legends. Other than the first game of the Showcase Cup and the first game of the regular season, the Hustle hadn’t attracted more than 1,000 fans to any game until Thursday’s kids’ day game.
Thursday’s sports scoreboard
JUCO men’s basketball
Northwest at Meridian – postponed, lack of game officials
JUCO women’s basketball
Meridian 66, Northwest 56