Austin falls to Salt Lake City in battle of the bigs, 98-89


Prior to Sunday afternoon tipoff in Cedar Park, TX, the Austin Spurs (16-20) received familiar roster additions from San Antonio: power forwards Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks. However, poor 3-pooting shooting and the inability to contain the paint spoiled the duo’s return, leading to a 98-89 loss to the Salt Lake City Stars (18-18).

“It’s a tough deal for those guys when they’re gone for a week to 10 days and they come in with no practice, no shootaround. They just gotta go right in and play,” Austin head coach Blake Ahearn said. “There’s an adjustment factor that we gotta get better at, and I don’t think we were very good offensively with the addition.”

A 20-4 run in the third quarter swung the Austin Spurs’ fortune in an unfavorable direction, providing substantial cushion for the Stars to finish the game. Austin entered the stretch with a 60-59 advantage, but offensive struggles and several triples forced the team to stare down a 79-64 deficit at the end of the third.

“We held the team to 24 points that quarter, so if we can hold a team to 24 points in a quarter, we’ll take that all day long,” Ahearn said. “We just didn’t score, we had 16. I thought we guarded well. We’re gonna have some lapses against a good team that can play, but it was just too timely.”

Austin countered Salt Lake City with a more traditional, low-post style of basketball. With Metu, Eubanks, and center Amida Brimah in the rotation, the Spurs found their most reliable offense within 10 feet of the rim. Even when shots fell short, there were always several Spurs on the prowl for offensive rebounds. Austin hauled in 13 offensive boards and won the second chance scoring battle, 17-10, as a result of its aggressive style.

Eubanks, 10-of-15 from the field, led the bigs with 21 points — many of which resulted from running hook shots and dunks. With 10 rebounds, the two-way contract player managed to record a double-double less than 24 hours removed of NBA action with San Antonio.

“I’ve really tried to master my finishing around the basket with both hands,” Eubanks said on the growth of his post play this season. “If you cut me off one way, I can still finish with my other hand.”

While Eubanks thrived in the post on one end of the court, Salt Lake City had an effective 7-foot-2 answer on the other end. Isaac Haas, a former Purdue center, seamlessly collected 21 points on 83.3% shooting, tying Eubanks for the game-high in a big man-dominated matchup.

“He’s gotten better in moving his feet over the years,” Eubanks said of Haas. “We were in the same agency, so we worked out a couple times this summer. I was just trying to out-quick him because obviously, I wasn’t gonna win the physical battle. My guards did a good job of finding me in spots where I was already past him and I could just lay it up or dunk it.”

The Spurs struggled in the 3-point matchup, connecting on just 24% of attempts, compared to the Stars’ 34.5%. The majority of Austin’s threes landed after the team was down by a considerable amount in the fourth quarter. To open the final frame, Josh Huestis drained consecutive threes from the left wing, sparking an 8-0 run to cut the Spurs’ deficit to eight. But Huestis was the only player who converted multiple threes Sunday afternoon.

“We’re getting the looks we want, but at the end of the day, we just need to step up and make them,” Ahearn said. “We got the right guys shooting them, so as long as we shoot them with confidence, we’ll be alright.”

With the All-Star break looming, Austin doesn’t resume action until Feb. 22 against the South Bay Lakers. Until then, the focus in the league is on the the second annual NBA G League International Challenge.

“We’re getting ready to go down to a tournament with a level of competition that will be high,” Ahearn said. “Just like any other game we play, it’s another opportunity to prove what you can do and we’re going down there to represent our league, our team, and our organization.”


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