The walk downstairs at halftime could not have been pleasant for the Maine Red Claws, who knew their less-than-inspired performance would displease their coach, Scott Morrison.

Sure, fewer than 200 fans had braved the snowstorm to show up at the Expo. And yes, their D-League all-star guard Marcus Georges-Hunt had departed Wednesday night after receiving a 10-day contract from the Miami Heat.

Whatever Morrison said, the Claws came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, overcoming a double-digit deficit to beat the Northern Arizona Suns 97-91 on Thursday night.

Ryan Kelly scored 32 points to lead the comeback. Jalen Jones contributed 21 points and 15 rebounds. Abdel Nader (16 points) put the Claws ahead for good on a breakaway dunk midway through the fourth quarter that made it 87-85.

Maine (21-12) left by bus for Westchester after the game and will return to the Expo to face Grand Rapids on Sunday afternoon. Northern Arizona dropped to 14-16.

“Coach really fired us up,” Kelly said of Morrison’s words at intermission. “He challenged us to do the dirty work out there, make the extra pass, make the extra box-out, and just do the little things that are necessary to win. They were outworking us there, especially in the second quarter.”

Dallas Lauderdale of the Maine Red Claws dunks against the Northern Arizona Suns Thursday. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The Suns took a 54-41 lead on the strength of a 13-0 run keyed by the outside shooting of Xavier Silas and Elijah Millsap. It was 58-48 at the break thanks to a Kelly 3-pointer.

“I can’t really repeat much of what I said,” Morrison said after the game. “Just really disappointed in the guys’ effort. There’s no excuse when you get outworked. They bullied us. They punked us. They outworked us in the first half and our guys responded by not playing very smart.”

Northern Arizona took 13 more shots than Maine in the first half, forcing 10 turnovers and earning a 12-2 advantage in offensive rebounds while shooting 43.8 percent from deep (7 of 16).

In the second half, the Claws cut their turnovers in half and allowed the Suns only four offensive rebounds.

Northern Arizona made only 1 of 14 shots from beyond the arc.

“In the second half we were tougher and made smarter plays, and played more as a team,” Morrison said. “It gets a little frustrating at times when it’s not technical things that are beating you.”

Northern Arizona maintained its lead throughout the third quarter until a late flurry sparked by the newest Claw, point guard Josh Hagins, cut the margin to 78-73 entering the fourth.

With Georges-Hunt called up and Demetrius Jackson returning to the Celtics, Hagins will have more opportunities, as will Cameron Ayers and Arthur Edwards.

Demetrius Jackson of the Maine Red Claws battles for a rebound with Alex Davis of the Northern Arizona Suns. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Jackson had a tough shooting night Thursday (0 of 6 from deep, six points). Edwards hit a 3-pointer that made it 83-83, then bailed out Jones by blocking a shot from behind after Jones’ bad pass led to a turnover.

“If we can get him playing consistently,” Morrison said of Edwards, who had six rebounds and three blocks, “he’ll be a key guy for us to finish the season off here.”

That block set up Nader’s momentum-grabbing dunk, a twisting behind-the-head flush. Two minutes later, closely guarded, Nader drained a 3-pointer for a 90-85 lead. Kelly followed with a one-handed dunk in traffic and a tough bank shot to put the Claws comfortably ahead.

“It’s hard not to notice,” Kelly said of the sparse crowd. “Obviously we appreciate the people who came, but it was going to be hard on a night like (Thursday). We barely made it here so we couldn’t expect many fans.

“But you have to block that out. You have to have pride. When you step out on the court, you have to play your best regardless of the situation. That’s what professionals do.”

NOTES: The attendance was announced as 1,453 but everyone in the stands could have perched in the blue courtside seats with room to spare. … One of the three officials, SirAllen Conner, received a police escort to the Expo from the Jetport after his delayed flight arrived from Chicago at 5:45 p.m. Conner arrived in time for the anthem and said his flight was surprisingly smooth. … Georges-Hunt will suit up for the Heat on Friday night in Brooklyn.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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