The Windy City Bulls, presented by BMO Harris Bank, visited the Wisconsin Herd at Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh, WI Friday night, as part of the NBA G League’s Opening Night of action. The game featured Chicago Bulls assignment players Denzel Valentine and Daniel Gafford, as well as Milwaukee Bucks assignment player Dragan Bender.
Both teams worked to integrate their respective NBA assignment players at the outset. Valentine was aggressive on the offensive end, but couldn’t quite get it going, shooting just 1-for-5 from the field, and 1-for-3 from beyond the arc. Gafford made his presence felt, notching four points and three rebounds in the first quarter.
The lead toggled back-and-forth as both teams shook off some early season rust. Bender, Frank Mason, and Cam Reynolds led the charge for the Herd, to give Wisconsin a 28-22 lead at the end of the quarter.
The players settled in, and the action picked up in the second. P.J. Dozier dropped in a four point play for Windy City, and Justin Simon followed with a three of his own to give the Bulls a three-point lead. Frank Mason, attacking all night for the Herd, matched at the other end from deep to tie the game. At times Mason was too aggressive driving to the basket, and Max Strus capitalized on that aggression in the Bulls’ favor on multiple occasions. Strus drew three offensive fouls in the first half, to spark a solid Windy City defensive effort.
Cam Reynolds was effective for Wisconsin from all over the floor, knocking down buckets from multiple angles. D.J. Hogg, a second year player out of Texas A&M, caught fire for the Herd as well, hitting 3-of-5 from outside, to lead the Herd with 13 points at the half.
Both teams shot poorly in the first 24 minutes, however the Bulls were able to convert 14 Wisconsin turnovers into 17 points, helping Windy City grab a 54-50 lead at the break.
The Bulls continued a trend from the pre-season by surging out of the halftime locker room. Dozier kept his sharp shooting going, burying one of his three triples on the night to extend the Windy City lead to seven. The bucket sparked a 20-9 Bulls run, capped off by a Max Strus’ trey to balloon the lead to 18.
The Herd fought all the way back, behind strong play from Hogg, Mason, and Bender, to cut the deficit down to just two points. But Ferrakohn Hall dropped in a three at the end of the third quarter to preserve the Windy City lead at five.
The push to make a comeback appeared to take the wind out of Wisconsin, and the Bulls took full control over the final 12 minutes. The Chicago Assignment players let their talents shine through as Gafford re-asserted his authority in the post, throwing down multiple two-handed slams. Valentine completely took over the game in the final minutes, hitting every shot he took, on his way to a near triple-double with 25 points, 8 assists, and 18 rebounds.
The combination of tough defense, and efficient transition offense, helped Windy City cruise to a 23-4 advantage in fast break points, and a 129-111 victory.
Other Bulls contributing to the win included Dozier with 20 points, and 13 assists, Strus with 20 points and three rebounds on 8-of-15 shooting. Gafford added 20 points, five rebounds, and three blocks.
Leading the way for the Herd were Hogg, with 20 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, and Bender with 20 points, seven rebounds, and two assists.
Windy City (1-0) and Wisconsin (0-1) will match-up again Saturday night at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, IL, for Windy City’s Home Opener.