The Sand Devils basketball team lost a heart-breaker Tuesday as they returned to the hardwood to begin the 2017-18 season. They played very well, very competitively despite having several players sidelined due to injuries.
It was an exciting, action-filled first game of the season and they proved that they are ready to pursue another banner year in spite of a loss to the Monument Valley Mustangs 63-64.
Tipping off the season was #1 Robert Smith, Freshman; #4 Justin Salabiye, Junior; #11 Jonah Larson, Senior; #24 Dainian Bitsinnie, Sophmore; and #31 Cheyenne Richardson, Junior.
In the first quarter the Sand evils took the lead when Monument Valley’s foul count began to rise. Devils took advantage of the turnovers and kept their lead 17-16.
In the second quarter the Devils pumped up the energy and gave the Mustangs serious battle with steals and landing shots in spite of the Mustangs’ strong defensive efforts. Devils gained 20 points and retained the lead at the half 37 to 30.
The exciting third quarter began when the Devils improved their form using strategy and immediately landing shot after shot. Mustangs responded in kind and the game became a showmanship of skills.
Towards the end of the third quarter Neztsosie was on fire bringing the lead to its high point landing three jump shots. In the last play of the quarter Neztsosie, after getting tangled up with an opponent while driving for the hoop, landed on his arm and sustained a double compound fracture. The game was halted while EMTs attended to him. He was taken to the Page Hospital and later flown the Flagstaff Medical.
The Devils finished the 3rd quarter with a 48 to 42 lead.
In the 4th quarter the Devils took the court by storm. Mustangs felt the pressure. The crowd went crazy. Lay ups, fouls, free throws and steals went back and forth. The fourth quarter saw 15 lead changes or ties.
With 9.2 seconds left in the game the Mustangs tied the game at 62. Cullen Nockideneh gave the Sand Devils a one point lead after he knocked down a free throw, but the Mustangs came roaring back, with their no. 10 dribbling the ball through Sand Devils defenders and finishing the drive with lay-up to give his team the lead with two seconds remaining.
The Sand Devils attempted a long inbound pass, but it was stolen by the Mustangs. Game over. The final score was Mustangs 64, Sand Devils 63.
“We should have won,” said head coach Russ Skuball. “We were up by 13 points at one point. We gave up way too many points in the second half. We committed silly fouls and didn’t close it out.”
Coach Skuball was proud of his team’s hustle and energy.
Coach Skuball has several players out with injuries or playing at less than 100 percent due to injuries. Senior Lane Dempsey is out with a deep-thigh bruise. Jonah Larson is at about 80 percent while he recovers from previous injuries, and Justin Salabiye has been suffering from back spasms all week. Add to that Dillon Neztosie who is now out after suffering a double compound fracture which he sustained in Tuesday’s game.
Coach Skuball is optimistic his team will only improve as his players mend and return to the court.