The Long Island Nets exacted revenge on the College Parks Skyhawks, the Atlanta Hawks’ G League affiliate, Saturday night, coming out on top 117-110, at Nassau Coliseum. Long Island has snapped their three-game losing streak and improved to 3-7 in Cup play, with each win coming on their home floor.
Long Island was looking to bounce back against College Park after suffering a 19-point blowout loss to the Skyhawks on Thursday night in Uniondale. That win marked the first for Atlanta’s G League affiliate this year.
The Nets affiliate placed seven players in double figures, led by Kessler Edwards, their two-way 3-and-D prospect; Day’Ron Sharpe, on assignment from the Nets; and Craig Randall II, who signed with Long Island out of the team’s tryout session before the season. All three finished with 18 points in the victory.
The win came after the Long Islanders received some bad news. Jordan Bowden is out for an extended period of time after undergoing thumb surgery. He missed his second straight game Sunday night. Pregame, Long Island head coach Adam Caporn said that the injury “been bothering him for awhile” and that while a return date is not firm, he expects his absence to run through the All-Star break. Bowden, a 6’5” swingman, played for Long Island in the G League “bubble” last year.
Stopping Sharife Cooper was a priority for Long Island entering Saturday night’s matchup. Cooper, a second round pick for the Hawks, torched the Nets on Thursday for 33 points
The Nets came out of the gates blazing hot on Saturday night. A spirited defense held College Park to a mere 15 points in the opening period, and Long Island doubled up that score with 30 points of their own.
The Nets stayed hot offensively in the second quarter, extending their lead. Good perimeter play from ball-handlers led to open threes. The Skyhawks picked up their play offensively, but had too much ground to make up. Long Island entered halftime up 66 to 45.
The Nets were able to maintain their advantage for the majority of the third quarter, primarily thanks to continued hot shooting and defensive effort. In the closing minutes of the period, however, College Park quietly initiated their run, with the deficit finishing at a still respectable 16 points when the two teams retreated to their locker rooms at the half.
College Park kept their best for last, and finally made their run come the fourth quarter. Long Island’s basket might as well have had a lid on it, for the Nets couldn’t get any shots to fall, whether from inside the key or on the perimeter.
College Park made their money with early opportunities in transition, often leaking out after missed Nets attempts and converting on the other end. The Skyhawks had cut the lead all the way down to six points with 23 seconds remaining when their DaQuan Jeffries nailed a bank-shot three to cut the lead to three points — and only possession. Randall responded by calmly hitting free throws, and Long Island finished with the victory. Daggers come in all varieties.
With Onyeka Okongwu out, Nets rookie Day’Ron Sharpe had another solid game in the paint on both ends of the floor. He totaled 14 points and 8 rebounds along with five — yes, you read that correctly — in 31 minutes of action. Postgame, Caporn praised Sharpe’s leadership:
“Our leadership was impressive, and I think Day’Ron was really critical in that. [A] Really supportive teammate, you could see him trying to get his teammates going, great voice, he’s a great energy and he really helped us.”
Kessler Edwards bounced back from a tough shooting performance on Thursday to score a team-high 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field as well as grabbing 8 rebounds. Even with his average shooting percentages, Edwards is improving his all-around offensive game, which will prove vital once in Brooklyn. Postgame, he explained his offensive mindset in a G-League environment:
Kessler Edwards: "I feel like I have the potential to be a very good three-level scorer, so games like these are perfect opportunities to be as aggressive as I want to be, so that's what I'm trying to do."— Alec Sturm (@Alec_Sturm) December 12, 2021
Edwards provided the highlight of the night for Long Island, a one-handed poster finish on two Skyhawk defenders. He had been amping up for the opportunity, he revealed postgame:
Edwards on his dunk: "My teammates were joking with me even before the game, because they feel like I've had opportunities to do that in the past. So, I told them I would try to get them one, and I was finally able to, so that felt good, just gotta keep that aggressive mindset." https://t.co/GtMJrQfw8c— Alec Sturm (@Alec_Sturm) December 12, 2021
In addition to Edwards and Sharpe who finished with 18 points, Brooklyn’s two other draft picks put up good numbers: RaiQuan Gray, the 59th pick in the Draft, finished with 10 points and eight boards, while Marcus Zegarowski, taken ten spots earlier, had 11 points and seven assists and a steal.
Josh Gray, who acted as the stable pseudo-veteran presence the Nets needed to calm College Park’s comeback storm late in the fourth, had seven assists. Postgame, Edwards spoke about Gray leading by example:
“He’s a leader, on and off the court. Even at practice and things like that, I think that’s one of the perks of having a veteran point guard that has experience like he does,” said Edwards. “We got contributions from a lot of people on the team, and he really stepped up big for us late. That’s what we know he can do for us.”
The Long Island Nets will travel to Maine next to take on the Celtics, Boston’s G League affiliate team. The first of those two games is on December 16th. It will tip off at 7pm on ESPN+.