The Long Island Nets suffered their third straight loss on Thursday, 117-98, dropping their to the previously winless College Park Skyhawks — the G League affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks.
After not seeing the floor since Long Island’s season opener due to right knee soreness and subsequent tendinopathy, Nets rookie David Duke Jr. is finally back on the floor but playing for Brooklyn rather than Long Island. Duke has spent the majority of time rehabbing his injury with Long Island, but suited up with the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday for his NBA debut. Long Island head coach Adam Caporn tuned into his debut and found himself quite pleased.
“We’re so enthusiastic when guys that spend time here get NBA minutes. We’ll talk about it [when] he comes back, the enthusiasm from the players is great, really happy for Duke. He’s worked really hard, great to see that first three go in. Great to see him do what he does, which is be a nuisance and a real threat to the opposition on the defensive end.”
Despite their 0-8 record, the Skyhawks were not to be ignored entering Thursday’s G League matchup. College Park’s roster boasted NBA-level talent including Sharife Cooper, Onyeka Okongwu, Jalen Johnson and DaQuan Jeffries.
The Nets burst out of the gates to capture an early lead, but hot shooting from Skyhawks guard Sharife Cooper helped fuel an eventual 23-9 extended run. Atlanta’s G League squad entered the second quarter up 31-24.
Things went from bad to worse for Long Island in the second quarter. A seven-point deficit ballooned to as many as 21 points mid-way through the period thanks to an array of scores from the Skyhawks, but the Nets were able to rally back, at least partially. They trailed by 14 at halftime, 59-45.
College Park was able to maintain their lead for the majority of the period, mostly thanks to play from rookie Jalen Johnson. Fueled by a three-point barrage from Bryce Brown, who hit three triples in the period, the Nets were able to ride an 11-0 into the fourth quarter down a mere six points.
Long Island stayed hot to start the final period, cutting the lead to four points, but College Park cooled off the home team and had it back to nine points with 8 minutes remaining. From there, the lead only expanded once again, reaching 19 points.
Much to the dismay of Caporn and the coaching staff, the Nets continued to rack up personal fouls in their Thursday night tilt. Long Island finished the game with 33 personal fouls. Post-game Caporn diagnosed one of the issues: “the disappointing part is that we wren’t able to execute, we get frustrated, and we foul. And that little vicious circle needs to stop.”
Day’Ron Sharpe and Bryce Brown, on the other hand, were just at a loss of words regarding the team’s high foul-count. Brown specifically had his gripes with the officiating:
“We got some bad whistles today. I’m going to be honest — they called an offensive foul on me down on our end, and I know for a fact I didn’t touch him<‘ said the G League veteran. “I’m not going to blame the refs, but we had some very unfortunate plays when it comes to fouls. What are you going do?”
Moreover, the Nets struggled to convert on their shot from all over the floor, going 31-for-95 from the field — good for a mere 33 percent. Individual players struggled with their accuracy as well; Marcus Zegarowski was 1-for-13 from the field and Josh Gray 2-for-11. Postgame, Caporn wasn’t going to chalk those numbers up to simply a poor shooting night, though:
“We need to be able to ... operate together, as a unit, and help them find good shots. So it’s on all of us, to do that. I don’t really chalk it up to variance.”
Day’Ron Sharpe, who was with Long Island on assignment from Brooklyn, was Long Island’s leading man against the Skyhawks. Sharpe showed off his diverse offensive skill-set with an array of moves; back to the basket, creating off-the-dribble, and stretching out to the perimeter. Sharpe finished the night with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists. He was 1-of-3 from deep.
Postgame, Caporn described his playmaking as underrated, saying: “I think the thing that can potentially separate him is his passing ability. I mean, we’re throwing it in there not for him to necessarily score, he’s just a good decision-maker.”
Teammate Bryce Brown was quick to agree, adding, “he’s a very underrated passer. I see it every day in practice, but now that’s something that the rest of the people are able to see now.”
A Day'Ron dunk to start the night pic.twitter.com/Ai4obsMTIU— Long Island Nets (@LongIslandNets) December 10, 2021
Kessler Edwards struggled from the field against College Park. His defensive energy was present but did not ultimately prove to be a difference-maker, and while his volume and accurate from behind the three point arc continues to impress — 4-for-10 on Thursday — he struggled shooting from all other areas of the field.
Bryce Brown was Long Island’s sharpshooter on Thursday night. The guard scored 21 points off the bench, nailing 6-of-8 from three.
As for the Skyhawks, it started and ended with Sharife Cooper on Long Island. The 2021 NBA Draft pick and Summer League standout consistently broke down the Nets’ defense at the point of the attack and was either able to finish at the rim or dish to an open teammate, often along the perimeter.
One of those often-open Skyhawk shooters was former NBA player DaQuan Jeffries. Jeffries, who played with the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets last season, scored 19 on 5-of-8 shooting from deep. Four such 3-pointers came in the fourth quarter, where College Park regained control of the game to put Long Island at bay.
Long Island will look to enact revenge on the Skyhawks on Saturday as they host a rematch at the Nassau Coliseum. The game is scheduled for 7pm and will be broadcast on NBAGLeague.com and the YES App.