The first ever professional game in Mesquite lived up to the hype and billing as the North American Premier Basketball League got off to a great start despite the local Nevada Desert Dogs losing a thriller Friday night, 119-115, to the Vancouver Knight at the Rising Star Complex.
Despite the loss, the fans gave a huge round of applause to the hometown team as the clock ticked down. Six Dogs scored in double figures but it was not enough to overcome the hot second half shooting of Anthony Gaines, Zaveral Jackson and Darius Paul who put up 30, 21 and 21 points respectively to lead the Knights.
Guards Anthony Strickland and Jonathon Lloyd led the Dogs with 20 points each followed by 14 points from Spencer Mathis, 12 each from Larry Johnson Jr. and Slim McGee.
Leon Sutton began the game hitting a 3-pointer for the first points ever by a Desert Dog. The home team made too many turnovers and trailed 28-24 after one period of play. Desert Dog Dominic Shuler had five blocks plus a numerous rebounds to keep the Dogs close. The Dogs tied the game 32-32 on two quick scores by Strickland and were still tied 52-52 before the Knights went on an 8-3 run to go into the break with a 60-55 lead.
The teams battled evenly throughout the third period with the Knights holding onto their lead finishing the period on top 88-84. Johnson started the fourth period with a hot hand hitting 8 straight points to give the Dogs their first lead since early in the game 92-90. The Knights recovered and took a 105-96 lead with a little less than six minutes remaining in the game.
The Dogs got within three, 111-108, before giving up eight straight to fall behind 117-108. The Dogs had to commit intentional fouls down the stretch and fell 119-115. The game was a win-win for everyone from the players to the fans, as the teams played their hearts out and the fans got a great taste of professional basketball.
The many dunks and blocked shots brought oohs and aahs from most in the gym. The teams faced off again on Saturday, Jan.13.
Prior to tipoff of Saturday night’s rematch between the Nevada Desert Dogs and the Knights, Desert Dog Coach Paul Mokeski said, “You can’t expect to win if you make 26 turnovers, 16 in the first half alone. Not even the Warriors (Golden State) can do that … We need to cut the mistakes and get our big men involved in the game.”
The strategy worked the first few minutes of the first period and the beginning of the fourth period. In between, turnovers and mental mistakes with poor shooting allowed the Knights to recover and win going away 122-105. Center McGhee (6-foot-11) started the game and responded with 8 points giving the Dogs a 14-11 lead. It was all Knights the rest of the quarter as they shut down the Dogs with a 29-10 run to take a 33-21 lead.
The Knights and Dogs battled evenly in the second period with the Knights holding on to a 62-52 advantage. Leading the way for the Dogs in the period was Anthony Strickland with 9 points and Terrell Evans with 11 points for the Knights. The Knights took advantage of 8 Desert Dog turnovers and balanced scoring to take an 86-66 lead late in the third period. Mokeski brought in big man Luke Cochrane to help stem the bleeding. Cochrane responded underneath with five quick points cutting the Knights lead to 92-75 after three periods.
Point guard reserve Tyree Murray made his presence known with a quick eight points to bring the Dogs within eight points, 100-92. Zaveral Jackson of the Knights took the game over down the stretch with 17 points in the period to give the Canada squad a 122-105 victory. Jackson led the Knights with 27 points followed by sharpshooter Terrell Evans with 25 points, 20 in the first half of play.
Strickland led the Desert Dogs with 19 points followed by McGhee and Murray with 14 each. Murray scored all his points in the fourth period. The Desert Dogs hope to reverse their fortunes next Thursday and Friday against the Yakima Sunkings who went 1-1 against the Knights, in their home opener.