Toros stomp 66ers for second time in a week

The Austin Toros gained their second double-digit win, 94-80, over the Tulsa 66ers at the Cedar Park Center last night. It was the third time these teams had faced off against each other all season, and even more interesting in the past week.

The home team jumped out to an early lead after the first quarter, 23-16, despite losing new player Keith Clark to what looked like a wrist injury and was later pronounced a shoulder injury. After logging 2:41 in his first game of the season Clark left for the locker room and returned to the bench later in the game with an ice pack and what could only be described as a make do ace bandage sling. If the injury is capable of keeping Clark on the bench for several games it could be assumed that Clark could be cut from the team to make room for a new player. However, due to NBA training camp starting tomorrow, and the possibility of five Toros players being invited to training camp (more on that in a minute) it’s in the Toros best interest to hold on to Clark.

Tulsa outscored the Toros in the second quarter and had the opportunity to go in to halftime with a two-point lead. A hard foul committed by Ryan Reid (12 points, 12 rebounds) at the buzzer sent Terrance Woodbury to the line. Woodbury closed the gap with the Toros trailing 45-44.

Back from the half the Toros faced another injury. With 9:15 remaining in the third center Luke Zeller suffered a broken nose. His two points weren’t missed as the Toros began to pull away in the third compliments of their strong defense. The team limited Tulsa to 12 points and stretched their lead to double-digits, 67-57.

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Why the Cleveland Thunderbirds matter to Spurs fans

The New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA’s D-League are now owned and operated by the Cleveland Cavaliers and will be playing ball in Canton, Ohio in the 2011-2012 season for the D-League.

Why does this news matter?

If you are a San Antonio Spurs fan and already experiencing the angst of the NBA lockout, this news, hardly seems relevant or encouraging as you consider the implications of a possibly non-existent NBA season.

But the D-League does matter, and this move by Cleveland also matters, especially to small market teams like San Antonio.

The Cavs joins the Spurs, Lakers, Thunder, and the Warriors as NBA teams with sole ownership of a D-League team.  This relationship between one D-League team and one NBA team benefits the D-League because the investment translates into long-term stability for the developmental league.  This relationship also is very significant for small market teams like Cleveland, and yes, the Spurs.

The Spurs’ brain-trust has been, in large part, brilliant when it comes to finding and developing talent. Names like Ginobili, Parker, Hill, Blair, Splitter and Neal immediately come to mind.

While there may not be a 2011-2012 NBA season, the D-League will go on and there are other names that Spurs fans should take interest in: Da’Sean Butler and Danny Green. Both are on the Spurs roster and both will likely play for the Spurs D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros.

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Green joins Toros for double OT loss; Jones looks back on first season

The Austin Toros (22-28) managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a double-overtime offensive showcase Saturday night, capping off an up-and-down season. Texas pulled away the second overtime, winning 134-128.

“You’ve got to give Texas some credit because we kind of had the game in control,” head coach Brad Jones said. “We missed some free throws and they made some tough three pointers, but you’ve got to give them the credit for not quitting. But at the same time, we gave them some life by missing some free throws and having turnovers down the stretch.”

The Legends had everything to play for. A win meant they were in the playoffs, while a loss ended their season. The Toros had nothing riding on this one in terms of the postseason, yet they found themselves up 108-100 with about a minute left. That’s when the wheels came off.

Booker Woodfox made a three on the Legends next possession. Then, Texas trapped the Toros and came up with a steal and found Justin Dentmon open for a trifecta to make it 109-108 Toros with 15 seconds left.

After four clutch Aubrey Coleman free throws, the score was 113-110 with less than 10 seconds left. That’s when Rashad McCants saved the Legends season by hitting a three-pointer to tie the game with four seconds left. McCants had 28 points on the night.

Leo Lyons’ potential game-winner rimmed out, and Marcus Cousin could not control the tip in and this one was headed for an unexpected overtime period.

The extra period mirrored the end of regulation for the Toros. When Toro-for-a-day Danny Green (on loan from the Spurs) knocked down an open three, Austin was leading 118-113 with 1:40 left.

A 5-0 Legends run tied it at 118, before Coleman, who led the Toros with 30 points, made a three. That put Austin up 121-118 with nine seconds left. That’s when lightning struck again. Woodfox, who only played ten minutes on the night, made his second cold-blooded three of the game with two seconds left, tying the score.

Squeaky Johnson’s three at the buzzer looked good out of his hand, but hit the front of the rim, sending it into double overtime. This was the third home game to go into double-overtime this season, and second against the Legends.

Austin got up 127-123 on a Johnson three, but then the Joe Alexander show resumed. Alexander was two for two from the field and three for three from the foul line in the second overtime.

Sean Williams’ free throws with ten seconds left put his team up by four with ten seconds left and the Toros could not answer. Williams had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Alexander led all scorers and rebounders with 36 and 15.

Given the turnover in the D-League, Jones’ post game talk with his players was also his farewell speech to many of them.

“I told them that the goal in this league, whether you win a championship or not is we make them feel like they’ve gotten better,” he said. “That’s the goal of our staff. Everyday we come to work trying to help them get better, while at the same time winning some games. Hopefully they feel that way. We didn’t meet all of our team goals, but hopefully they met some of their individual goals.”

One player that already has a taste of the NBA is Green. On Saturday, Green was one of six Toros in double figures, with 19 points and seven rebounds.

“It was an exciting game for the fans,” Green said. “But if you’re a Toro, you’re pretty disappointed because we had the game won multiple times at the end, but we couldn’t just close out.”

Even though Green had virtually no time to practice and get acclimated with his team, he felt pretty comfortable.

“Given the short notice, I felt like things clicked pretty well,” he said. “I’m not the type of guy to come in and just put up a bunch of shots and force the issue. I know they have some things going here. So I just wanted to keep their chemistry flowing and play a small role and just knock down open shots for them and help them on defense hopefully.

“If they need me to do something, then yeah, but tonight, they really didn’t need that. They have some guards that can get in the paint and make some things happen.”

Green will now look to help the parent club down the stretch run as they try to snap their losing skid.

“I believe I’m going back to the Spurs tonight, we play Phoenix tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens from there,” he said. “Hopefully we can break the losing streak, so we’ll see what goes on. (The big guys) are all healthy and we’re playing better.”

Lance Thomas, who suffered a seizure on court last Saturday, was courtside cheering on his teammates.

“I feel fine,” Thomas said. “The hit I took was pretty bad at the moment with what happened, but I feel fine now. I have to wait a little bit until I have clearance from the doctors. From the standpoint of day-to-day from when it happened, I feel fine.”

Thomas said once he receives doctor’s permission to resume full-contact basketball, he will decide his next basketball move. He hates having to sit out and said this one was especially tough to watch.

“I hate watching period,” Thomas said. “Just to watch a nail biter like that, it was tough, especially when you want to get out there and help. I’ve been a part of this team since the beginning of the season, so it’s hard to watch my guys out there without me.”

Nevertheless, he was proud of his guys.

“I thought they left it on the floor,” he said. “I think there were plays where the other team did better than we did, and there were plays when we had to tough it out, but there was no question of our effort.”

Thomas is one of the Toros young up-and-comers with dreams of playing in the NBA. Jones would love to see all his guys fulfill their professional aspirations.

“I hope all these guys end up in the NBA or oversees making 50 grand a month, so hopefully none of them are back because they’re all making a gazillion dollars,” Jones said. “Having said that, I really like this group we have right now and obviously if it fit in their career path, then we would love to have them come back.”

Jones, who was talking with Spurs GM R.C. Buford and VP of Basketball Operations Danny Ferry after the game outside the locker room, will take the next few days to do some exit interviews and start planning for the summer.

“We’ll see what the Spurs want from us and what we have to do as a staff,” Jones said.

Overall, Jones said his first season with the Toros was both fun and disappointing.

“At times (I had fun),” Jones said. “Every year, there is a challenge. It was a little bit more of a challenge this year with all the roster turnover. Not being able to fulfill the team goals of winning more, I’m very disappointed about, but in the midst of all the fight is a lot of fun. Sometimes you just don’t get the outcome you desire.”

Video recap: Austin Toros vs. Iowa Energy

Toros Fall to the Vipers on the Road, 118-103

With seven games remaining in the final two weeks of the regular season, the Austin Toros (19-24) needed this road win over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (30-14).

On the bubble for the playoffs, the Toros had recently started to make a last-minute surge for playoffs. The Vipers victory will make it that much harder for the team to pass the Texas Legends and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for the eighth seed.

Kyle Weaver, who led the Toros with 24 points, gave the team a 25-23 lead at the end of the first quarter with a 3-point jumper. With nine lead changes in the second quarter alone, both teams traded buckets and kept the game within four points. At the half the game was tied at 49.

In the third quarter the Vipers began to pull away, outscoring the Toros 37-21, as the Toros couldn’t contain the Vipers from beyond the arc. Jerel McNeal’s long shot, the Vipers sixth of the quarter, stretched the home team’s lead heading in to the fourth, 86-70. McNeal scored 12 of his 18 points in the third quarter.

Their lead continued in the fourth as the Toros defense ran out of gas. Mouhammad Faye’s pair of freebies with 10:26 remaining in the game stretched the Vipers lead to 21, the largest of the night. Seconds later Leo Lyons jump started a Toros 11-2 run. It was not enough as the Vipers regrouped and continued to score in the paint. The Vipers win still gave the Toros the advantage on the season series, 5-4.

The Toros had five players score in double figures. The bench combined for 60 of the Toros 103 points. With the loss, Austin still remains out of the final spot for the D-League playoffs.

The team heads to Tulsa on Tuesday before returning home for a three-game home stand.

Squeaky Johnson: Finding success in the face of adversity

Austin Toros point guard Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson is in his fourth year with the team, a rarity in a league where rosters change from day-to-day. Since his first year in 2007, Johnson has seen dozens of teammates come and go, some to the NBA, some to other professional teams and some just out of basketball.

Johnson has fallen into the category of a good player that everyone likes and is a team leader, but has never been able to break into the NBA. For Squeaky, whose road to Austin was long and rocky, playing for the Toros has not been a minor league struggle, but a dream realized.

“I never actually thought that I would be the guy that would be on the pedestal,” Johnson said. “Going to the NBA wasn’t the ultimate goal for me. For me it’s being successful and not doing things that my father wouldn’t agree of. With that being said, yeah I’ve made it and for me to continue playing basketball without actually thinking it’s a job or getting a job, I’m making it.”

Squeaky is having his best season yet with the Toros, averaging a career high in minutes (34.5), points (12.3) and assists (6.5). Overall, Johnson has enjoyed his time in Austin.

“It’s been great man,” Johnson said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. I went from starting, to being a role player, to a guy that was just supporting the team in different ways. Now I got the job of starting and being part of the team and I’m excited about it.”

Johnson wants to keep playing basketball as long as possible and said he would love to be back with the Toros for a fifth season. If that doesn’t work out, he would be fine with playing somewhere overseas. 

Squeaky, who was given his nickname by his aunt after a character from Laverne and Shirley (Squiggy), has had some stability the last four years as a member of the Toros, something he has not always had. Johnson was a senior star point guard at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown of New Orleans.

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Cousin gets called up to NBA’s Utah Jazz

* Mikkayla Guillett contributed to this post

According to Austin Toros’ Squeaky Johnson Twitter message, Toros center Marcus Cousin has received a call-up from the Utah Jazz of the NBA.

The 2011 D-League All-Star, Cousin started all 38 games this season averaging 29.9 minutes of action. He leads the team with 14.7 points 8.6 rebounds per game. He also becomes the 14th D-League call-up and the first for the Toros this season.

With Cousin heading to the NBA, this will leave a huge hole for the Toros in the paint. Not to mention the Toros are already dealing with numerous injuries and have seen players get traded frequently. Furthermore, it doesn’t help the Toros’ chase for the eighth spot in the D-League playoff race.

More than likely, this will be a NBA 10-day contract; however, this is great news for Cousin who deserves this opportunity in the NBA.

In case you missed it: Toros get revenge on Legends

File this under “In case you missed it.” Here is a recap from the last game between the Austin Toros and Texas Legends on March 3, 2011 at the Cedar Park Center.

After a double-overtime game on Wednesday night that had fans clinging to the edge of their seats, yet left them disappointed, the Austin Toros were determined to exact revenge on the Texas Legends. The boys in black, or rather pink on Thursday, were not about to let the Legends win back-to-back games at Cedar Park Center. Thanks to outstanding play by Leo Lyons, who had 32 points in the victory and solid performances by the rest of the team, the Toros finished this one in regulation, beating the Legends 132-122.

While the Toros jumped out to a quick lead in the first quarter, it was not meant to last and the Legends bounced right back in the game to end the period up by a score of 34-29. Moses Ehambe of the Toros led the home team with ten points, but it was not enough to hang on to the early lead. Justin Dentmon, who was the thorn in the Toros side on Wednesday after scoring the game-winning basket at the buzzer, had seventeen for the visitors in the first.

After seven lead changes in the second quarter, the Toros managed to end the half on top by a score of 65-63. The Legends again relied on Dentmon to carry the team and he added another seven points to his tally. Legends forward Joe Alexander also put up 10 points in the second quarter. The Toros saw strong play from Aubrey Coleman in the second, who scored eight points, had an assist and two steals in the frame. Leo Lyons also had eight for the home team and Moses Ehambe added another six.

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Toros take down the Skyforce

The Austin Toros (17-22) beat the Sioux Falls Skyforce (7-30) 115-96 today at the Cedar Park Center in a much-needed win to stay within reach of the final playoff spot in the D-League. Not to mention getting a win after two crushing losses in the past week.

Early in the game, the Toros used a 16-4 run on the Sky Force and they never looked back. The Toros had six players with double-digit scoring and were led by Leo Lyons with 29 points who carried the Toros on his shoulder in the fourth quarter with 10 points. Austin’s Marcus Cousin grabbed 10 rebounds and Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson had 8 assists.

The Sky Force went on a 6-0 run to try to close the gap in the third quarter but the Toros held them off by not relinquishing their lead which was as big as 20 points. David Bailey led the Skyforce with 18 points and 7 rebounds.

The Toros will next face the Texas Legends Friday at 7 PM.

A display of talent, defense and professionalism: Squeaky Johnson

As I was walking into the Cedar Park Center from the back gate this past Saturday evening, from a distance I could see the basketball court and a few basketballs being shot into the air. 

As I approached the basketball court, I saw a player working with his trainer and doing shooting drills. He wore his pre-game sweats and the number on the back bore “10.”

Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson has been a member of the Austin Toros since the 2007 season. He is the veteran with the team and this will be his fourth season with the Toros pending he doesn’t get called up to an NBA team.

After following the San Antonio Spurs and the Gregg Popovich era for a number of seasons, you already know what type of character players would be associated with the Spurs: talented, defensive minded and display great professionalism.

Squeaky Johnson possesses all of these characteristics.

His talent? A point guard who makes the most of his opportunities. In his past four seasons, Johnson has increased his scoring and assists each season when given the minutes to play. (2007-2008: 18.2 mpg 4.1ppg, 3.6ast. 2008-2009:  8.9 ppg, 5.2 ast. 2009-2010: 18.8 mpg, 6.5ppg, 3 ast. 10-11’: 34.6 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 6.2 ast)

Whether he’s driving and dropping a teardrop through the lane, crossing over a defender to get into the paint or dishing to one of his teammates on a breakaway dunk, Johnson runs the floor with cadence and control.

Johnson is a team-oriented player and knows in order to improve, the whole team must work hard. I asked him what his team has been improving on.

“Running the floor and getting transition buckets, we are continually trying to harp on that and improve, so I think we’re getting better and better at that.”

But what about the nickname “Squeaky” and its evolution?

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