TAYLORSVILLE—In a season fraught with disappointment, the Salt Lake City Stars found themselves on the right side of a trendline Monday night.
After enduring a pair of losing streaks lasting seven and three games, the Stars defeated the Canton Charge 94-87 at Bruin Arena Monday night to earn their second straight win and third of the season.
“We lost a lot in a row, last five or six games we’ve played a lot better,” said Utah Jazz two-way player Nate Wolters, who scored 15 points and added a team-high 10 assists in Salt Lake’s first home win of the season. “We competed defensively. We weren’t hitting a lot of shots, but we were still able to win.”
The Jazz’s other two-way player, Eric Griffin, finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots in 36 minutes, while Jazz assignee Tony Bradley, who played just his fourth game with the Stars Monday, led all scorers with 24 points and added a game-high 10 rebounds and two steals in his second straight double-double.
“Offensively, he screens much better and he actually rolls to the pocket or all the way to the rim, ” said Stars head coach Martin Schiller of Bradley’s recent improvement, before adding, “But he makes a difference. He makes the entire defense guard him.”
Defensively, the first-year head coach acknowledged that the transition from the Jazz to the Stars has been a challenge for Bradley, citing that his position in the pick-and-roll with the former is much higher than where he is stationed with the Stars.
Bradley had recently expressed frustration with his lack of conditioning and playing time following a 3-of-9 shooting effort against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers a week ago at Vivint Arena. But after consecutive sensational performances, the 19 year-old center was singing a more uplifted tune Monday.
“I feel like just getting a rhythm, being with the team, it’s good for me,” Bradley said.
After falling down 18-11 with 6:08 in the first quarter, the Stars responded with a 15-7 run — which included a more-than-four-minute scoring draught from Canton — to earn a one-point advantage, 26-25, at the first intermission.
Then, after Canton opened the second quarter on a 10-6 run, it was Taylor Braun’s elbow three-pointer that tied the game at 35 with 8:10 remaining in the second frame. From there, Bradley scored 6 of the Stars’ final 15 points in the quarter as part of 16-point first-half for the former North Carolina product.
In a first half that saw the Charge, the G-League’s worst 3-point shooting team, shoot an unlikely 56 percent (9-16) from behind the arc, the Stars counteracted the Charge’s hot three-point shooting by keeping them out of the paint, an area where they normally thrive.
The Charge, who entered Monday’s game ranked 3rd in first-half points in the paint (25.0), were held to just 12 in the first 24 minutes, while the Stars, in contrast, scored 26 in the same category en route to a one-point deficit, 51-50, heading into halftime.
“We said ‘we want to take away the middle, we don’t want to let them in the paint,'” Schiller said of his team’s gameplan heading into the game. “This was like bottomline. … That was like the big emphasis for this game: no middle, no drive.”
Salt Lake began the second half on a 17-7 run to earn a nine-point lead before a corner three from Canton’s John Holland cut it to 67-61 with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter. Canton slimmed the margin to as close as four in the third quarter before finishing with a six-point deficit, 67-61, heading into the final frame.
In a game that included 19 lead changes, a tight fourth quarter began with a 14-7 Canton run that was powered by a combined 10 points from Gerald Beverly and Kevin Olekaibe to steal the advantage from Salt Lake with 5:24 remaining.
For Canton, the lead would prove to be short-lived, as Griffin finished through contact and completed the and-one 23 seconds later to put the Stars ahead 82-80, a lead they would never relinquish.
Naz-Mitrou Long hit his only three-pointer of the night on the ensuing possession, which was then followed by a Wolters-to-Bradley alley-oop 30 seconds later that extended Salt Lake’s lead to seven with 4:33 remaining.
The Charge briefly threatened after Holland splashed a three, their last of the night, to pull Canton within four with 3:10 left. Canton would go on to miss their next three attempts from behind the arc before intentionally fouling Salt Lake three times in the final thirty seconds, in which the Stars made 5-of-6 to pull away.
“Our defense has been good the past couple of games, holding teams to 100 points,” Wolters said. “So when our offense gets going, I think we’ll be pretty tough to beat.”
The Stars will have four days rest before getting a chance at their third straight victory against the Iowa Wolves in Des Moines on Friday.
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