A costly foul on the final defensive possession of the game was the difference in the second straight loss for the G League Ignite to start the new year.
The Ignite fell just short during a 120-119 loss to the Salt Lake City Stars Sunday, Nov. 6 from The Dollar Loan Center. This marked the second straight loss after the team had a double-digit lead.
“Our Achilles heel is fouling,” head coach Jason Hart said. “And we fouled on the last possession. We didn't even want to play out and have our hands up.”
In their first full 50-game schedule, the Ignite are 0-2 through the first two games of the year, both of which came at home. As a result, the team will look for win No. 1 on the road next week.
“We’re closer to winning,” forward Shareef O’Neal said. “Nobody’s ever negative on this team, that’s one thing about us even since the first day of official practice, we clicked.
“We got another game tomorrow, we have to forget about this one – we have South Bay tomorrow.”
The Ignite will travel to California to take on the South Bay Lakers Monday, Nov. 7 from the UCLA Health Training Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
For the second straight game, the Ignite raced out to a first quarter, double-digit lead, this time by as many as 12 points. However, a 9-2 run by the Stars to end the frame, which turned into a 12-2 to start the second to cut the lead to two points.
Not long after, Salt Lake City would take the lead and eventually extend it to eight before halftime.
“Normally, it’s like December or January,” Hart said in terms of window time to correct mistakes that carry into blown leads. “Just learning the physicality of the game and then learning how to win. This is a new team without any pro experience so this is what you get – you’re going to get highs and lows but this is the maturation and development of normal 18 year olds.”
Needing a spark in the second half, it came in the form of a technical foul after a highlight-reel play from guard Scoot Henderson. Off a steal, Henderson came down the floor with Stars guard Rawle Alkins in front of him before he euro-stepped around his defender for the one-hand power finish.
Henderson was T’d up for jawing at Alkins after the play. The response was six straight points from the projected No. 2 overall pick in next June’s NBA Draft.
As part of a 6-0 run early in the fourth quarter, a midrange jumper from Henderson tied the game at 91. He finished with a game-high 25 points on 10-of-28 from the floor with six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Forward Leonard Miller hit a three-pointer to put the Ignite up five with just under nine minutes left in regulation. He also hit the go-ahead jumper that put the home team up one with 2.7 seconds left in the game.
Miller posted a monster double-double with 19 points, 13 rebounds (seven on the offensive glass) and four steals.
“We came out with a chip on our shoulder – we wanted to win this one,” O’Neal said. “The first one [...] we just forgot about that one and moved onto the next one. We have 50 games this season so there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, we just have to make sure we’re available and ready for every single game because this is a fast schedule [getting ready] to go by.”
Three others scored in double-figures including 14 points for guard Mojave King, 12 from forward Aubrey Dawkins and 11 from fellow forward Efe Abogidi.
Early foul trouble for Abogidi forced him to the bench and forced a different rotation onto Hart. O’Neal picked up the early minutes and played a vital role in the Ignite efforts.
“Bigs, they foul a lot,” Hart said. “The speed of the game is much different for him than college. Not just Efe, our whole team fouls – that’s all we do is foul. We committed 31 fouls and we just have to keep growing on that part.
“It’s a lot of little leaks but this is part of it and I have patience for it. Eventually, it’s going to start turning into wins.”
Fellow reserve Pooh Jeter earned some more minutes during his stint after initiating offensive plays that were capped off in and-one and three-point baskets. He also hit a mid-range jumpshot to cut the deficit to five.
Shortly after, he pushed the break for an eventual dunk by a teammate to slash the lead to three.
At the 2:47-mark of the third quarter, the combination of O’Neal and Jeter had a +33 plus/minus.
“I don’t pay attention to plus/minus,” Hart said. “That’s just more numbers that they’re throwing into the game. We lost by one point so at the end of the day we came up one possession short.”