Photo: David Johnson (13) of the Memphis Hustle drives for two of his 26 points Tuesday night against the Ontario Clippers. (Bob Bakken/desotocountynews.com)
Officially, there were 240 souls who braved the frigid, icy Mid-South weather to come out to the Landers Center and watch the Memphis Hustle take on the Ontario (California) Clippers for a second straight contest Tuesday night.
The number of fans actually there was likely far less than that, but those who did come out saw the Hustle break a five-game losing streak, saw Matthew Hurt hit new career highs for points and field goals, and saw David Johnson hit two free throws with 17.4 seconds left in a 106-104 NBA G League victory.
The win put the Memphis regular season record to 3-6, while the Clippers fell to 3-5, and came one game after Ontario pinned a 126-119 defeat on the Hustle Sunday afternoon.
Hustle coach Jason March liked what he saw from his roster Tuesday night and how they fought back from what he called, “letting one get away” on Sunday.
“I felt like we could have got that last one,” March said. “But I knew our guys had a different look. We had a lot of fight in us. Every single guy just battled and kept competing. I have a lot of respect for that locker room in there.”
No one was as deadly as Hurt, the second-year returning rights player from Duke. The six-nine forward-center was hitting from inside and outside, finishing with 12 field goals, six three-pointers, and added nine rebounds for 36 points. The 12 field goals and 36 points are career highs for Hurt. March thinks he is close to making the move up.
“Everyone’s looking for shooting bigs,” March said. “Well, there’s one right here in Southaven playing for the Hustle that deserves a shot. And that kid can play, man he knows the game. He’s very well-rounded as a player. And he’s very close. He’s very close.”
Ontario took the early lead in the game, finishing the first quarter with a 30-26 lead. Hurt led the Hustle with 10 points, matching Bryson Williams of the Clippers, who also had 10.
But the Hustle took a five-point lead into the locker room at halftime at 56-51, holding Williams to 10 points while Hurt finished the half with 17 and Timmy Allen added 13 for the first 24 minutes of the game.
Memphis nudged the lead a little further after three quarters to 83-75, as Hurt erupted for 13 points in the quarter for a total of 30. David Johnson stepped up in the third quarter for a total of 20.
The Hustle jumped out in the fourth quarter to an 88-75 just 1:01 into the period, but the Clippers started a comeback that reached 92-90 Memphis with 7:10 remaining. Another Hustle timeout came after the Clippers took the lead at 99-96 with just under five minutes left.
Ontario held the lead at 104-102 with 1:24 remaining after two Jordan Miller free throws, but Johnson tied the game at 104-104 on a short jumper with 1:01 remaining.
When a foul was called on Clippers’ Djordije Jovanovic, coach Paul Hewitt challenged the call, which was supported on video review. The foul put Johnson to the foul line, where he knocked down both free throws, which turned out to be the winning points on the night. Miller’s desperation three-point try fell off, and the Hustle came away with the win.
“Hopefully tonight is a step for us as this small group that we have right now is learning how to win games,” March said. “We’re learning how to close games. It is very hard to do and we got a group of guys that haven’t been together. It’s a development process. I know we use that word a lot but it couldn’t be truer than what it is right now.”
Hurt said the losing streak had been mentioned ahead of the game, so breaking it was motivation.
“Coaches did a great job of preparing us and letting us know that we have to get over this losing streak,” Hurt said. “There’s gonna be highs and lows during the season and I appreciate them for letting us know about anything.”
Johnson finished the night with 26 points, followed by 15 from Allen and 11 from DeJon Jarreau.
Miller’s 20 points led Ontario in scoring, followed by Williams with 18.
Now, the Hustle head for Austin to play a two-game set with the Spurs Thursday and Saturday, then return home for the start of a seven-game homestand on Saturday, Jan. 27 against Santa Cruz.