The Hustle return to the court 24 hours after defeating the Agua Caliente Clippers and fighting off elimination from playoff contention to live to see another night. Up next on the schedule? A matchup against the solid, but beatable, Westchester Knicks. The Hustle would need a win and some help in the standings to stay alive in the playoff hunt and would have to do so without the services of Jontay Porter who was out due to load management.
It was a back and forth first quarter as the Hustle opened on a 6-0 run, only for the Knicks to respond with a 10-0 run of their own. The Knicks built up to a 9 point lead in the middle of the quarter, before a late Hustle run saw them cut the lead down to one at the end of the quarter. The Knicks led 25-24 thanks to 10 points by Louis King, but the Hustle were sparked by two-way player Sean McDermott who had 7 points and 3 rebounds in the quarter.
The Hustle were able to retake the lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter but the Knicks responded with a mini-run of their own to take the lead. In what has become the theme in the game, the Hustle came back to take the lead and the teams exchanged leads most of the quarter. The Hustle were able to go on a run late in the quarter to jump out to a 10 point lead in the final minutes of the quarter. They were able to extend that to 14 points to enter the halftime break with a put-back slam by Sean McDermott right before the halftime buzzer to give them the 60-46 lead.
The Knicks were able to claw back into things in the first half of the 3rd quarter, cutting the Hustle lead to single digits. The Hustle were able to respond to every Knicks run as they Knicks couldn't cut the deficit down to anything lower than 6 points in the quarter. The Hustle had a response for every run the Knicks had in them, but couldn’t really pull away either in the 3rd quarter. The Hustle ultimately found themselves up 92-82 entering the 4th quarter thanks to Anthony Cowan Jr.’s triple at the buzzer.
The Hustle began to pull away, starting the 4th quarter on an 8-2 run and taking the momentum away from a Knicks team who began to disappear defensively. The Hustle were able to jump out to a 19 point lead before the mid-point in the quarter and seemingly had the game handled. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as the Knicks got desperate and were able to come back and cut the game down to single digits with 3 minutes left in the game. The Hustle were able to hang on and win the game to keep their playoff hopes alive with a 118-112 win over the Westchester Knicks. Ahmad Caver was critical for the Hustle down the stretch hitting some big free throws and controlling the offense in the final minutes to keep everyone calm.
It was a really good game by the Hustle that is a little diminished by the poor end to the game. Blowing a 19 point lead and going scoreless for nearly half the quarter wasn’t anything fun to watch, but it says a lot about the composure of this young team to not completely fold and hang on for the win.
It was another great game for Ahmad Caver who had 21 points to go along with 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Sean McDermott scored 20 points in another hot shooting night for the two-way player, while David Stockton had another all-around game with 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists. Freddie Gillespie would have my vote for “Hustler of the Game” with his 12 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 blocks. Most importantly, he dove for a loose ball late in the game to give the Hustle a key possession with less than 2 minutes left in the game.
Jason March was pleased with the teams effort tonight and says they came out with good focus and energy. He’s proud of the how the team continues to play the right way, growing through the mistakes, instead of packing it in especially after the losing streak. Jason was also complimentary of Freddie Gillespie and his defensive presence. Jason says the bigs run the defense and that Freddie has done an unbelievable job and is one of the hardest workers on the team.
I asked Jason about the “Hustler of the Game,” and he said it was a tough choice with a handful of deserving guys but he ultimately went with David Stockton who had a well-balanced game and was able to control the game and tempo as the Hustle went on their run, as well as late in the game when the Knicks were trying to come back.
The Hustle will be back in action on Thursday to try and keep the slim playoff hope alive against the Long Island Nets and former Memphis Tiger Jeremiah Martin.