Yuta Watanabe

Yuta Watanabe of the Memphis Hustle watches a shot go in during a game this season at the Landers Center. Watanabe’s 23 points helped the Hustle to a 122-119 first-round playoff victory Wednesday night at Stockton, California. The Hustle play next at Rio Grande Valley Friday night.

Strowbridge shot sends Hustle to semifinals

BY BOB BAKKEN

Sports Editor

The little man came up big for the Memphis Hustle (29-22) Wednesday night and sent his team to the NBA G League Western semifinals at Rio Grande Valley, Texas Friday evening.

Jay-R Strowbridge, who at six-feet tall still looks diminutive compared to most everyone else on the floor, was found in the left corner by teammate Kyle Casey and quickly shot what proved to be the game-winning three-point basket in a 122-119 first-round playoff victory at Stockton, California.

“Kyle made a great penetration move and he made a great pass,” Strowbridge said about the final play. “I locked in on the rim, had no time to think about it, just locked in on the rim and it went in.”

Strowbridge’s shot gave the Hustle a win in its first-ever playoff appearance and in the short amount of time he’s been on the roster, he’s been a positive factor for Memphis in the final stretch of the regular season, said coach Brad Jones.

“We’ve known about Jay-R all year,” Jones said after the game. “We had him in training camp and unfortunately had to waive him. We brought him back about 3-4 weeks ago as he was playing in Canada. For him to hit that shot is just icing on the cake. He had the confidence to shoot it and what a fairy tale ending for him.”

The basket for Strowbridge was his only field goal of the game to add to a pair of free throws for a total of five points.

The Hustle took a 62-55 lead into the locker room at halftime and at one time had an 18-point lead before the Kings came back late in the game to tie it at 119-119, setting up Strowbridge’s heroics.

Stockton had trailed 106-88 with 8:22 remaining before going on a 17-0 run and went on a 22-2 run in the next 4:36 to take a 110-108 lead. Casey’s four unanswered points gave Memphis a 119-115 lead with 1:08 left in the contest. The Kings tied it up with 25.4 seconds left to set up the final drama.

“We knew they would make a run in the fourth quarter and we had to figure out a way to withstand it,” Jones said. “Our guys competed and were connected. We had some big time offensive plays down the stretch. Kyle Casey made some big plays for us and Yuta (Watanabe) was just terrific for us all night.”

Watanabe, a two-way player for the Hustle with the Grizzlies, finished with 23 points and Casey scored 15 points. Markel Crawford led Memphis in scoring with 28 points, which included five three-pointers, and Dusty Hannahs added 26 with four from outside the arc.

Nino Johnson had the only double-double for Memphis on the night with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Former Grizzlies player Troy Williams paced the Kings (30-21) with a game-high 33 points.

The Hustle now head to Rio Grande Valley at Edinburg, Texas for their semifinal contest Friday night.

Rio Grande Valley is the number one seed in the Western Conference playoffs, starting at 7 p.m. Central time. Fans may watch the game online through a Facebook Live broadcast.

Memphis and Rio Grande Valley split the season series 2-2, with the home team winning each matchup. The Vipers finished tied for the league’s best record at 34-16.

WATCH PARTY PLANNED: The Memphis Hustle on Friday will host a Hustle Budweiser Watch Party for the team’s conference semifinals matchup with the top seed Rio Grande Valley Vipers at Buffalo Wild Wings in Southaven (7188 Airways Blvd). Tip-off is at 7 p.m. CT and the game will be broadcast on Facebook Live.

All Hustle fans in attendance will receive a Hustle Playoff Rally Towel and be treated to happy hour pricing. Fans will be seated in the bar section of the restaurant with several TVs on the broadcast feed with audio.

Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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