SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Wes Johnson flashed his usual smile in his return to the Carrier Dome. That he didn’t awe the crowd with one of his signature dunks and wasn’t wearing Syracuse Orange didn’t matter one bit.
Kevin Love had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Johnson added four points and three assists as the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Detroit Pistons 99-88 on Friday night.
It was a whirlwind for Johnson, the Big East player of the year last season and now an NBA rookie. Three games in four days and renewing old friendships in a place he captivated with his all-around play last season for the Orange took something of a toll.
“I was tired, a lot of adrenaline going,” said Johnson, who earned Big East player of the year honors last season. “It was a lot different from college, when the student section was crazy. Still, seeing the “S” on the floor brought back a lot of memories.”
Johnson was 2 of 6 from the floor, missing two attempts from 3-point range, and nabbed two steals and one rebound in just over 21 minutes.
“I think Wes was a little nervous coming home,” Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said. “He wanted to do really well. A lot of the times he forgot what we were supposed to do out there, but that’s youth. He’s still learning. In shootaround, I saw him do things athletically I had never seen him do, so I know he was fired-up.”
Austin Daye had 18 points, Charlie Villanueva added 16, Will Bynum had 12 and Ben Gordon 11 for the Pistons (2-3 preseason).
Nikola Pekovic and Martell Webster each had 13 points for Minnesota (4-1).
The Timberwolves trailed for most of the first quarter, then started the second with a 14-2 spurt as the Pistons went cold, hitting just four of 15 shots in the period, and the Wolves never trailed again.
Love’s 3-pointer from the left wing at 7:17 gave the Wolves a 34-31 lead. Webster’s steal and dunk put Minnesota up 44-37 and his driving dunk less than a minute later kept them in front by seven. Villanueva’s fast-break dunk in the final minute moved the Pistons within 49-43 at halftime.
Detroit got as close as 53-52 on Villanueva’s follow midway in the third, but Johnson scored from left wing and Love followed with seven straight points, giving Minnesota a 65-60 lead with a 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Villanueva at 4:22.
Daye’s jumper with 5 minutes left in the third was the last basket for the Pistons in the period. Webster’s pullup jumper and a basket by Kosta Koufos gave Minnesota a 71-61 lead after three and they coasted from there.
It was a homecoming for three former Syracuse stars of coach Jim Boeheim: Johnson, who declared a year early for the NBA draft; point guard Jonny Flynn, who left after his sophomore season; and veteran Jason Hart, who’s trying to earn a spot on the Timberwolves as a free agent.
Flynn is recovering from hip surgery and did not play. He was greeted with a standing ovation before the game and signed hundreds of autographs. Flynn and Johnson were featured in a highlight reel played before the game.
“It’s great. I really love the support that we have,” said Flynn, who averaged 13.5 points and 4.4 assists as a rookie last season. “Just to come back and show how appreciative I am for all the love they show. It’s like I just left. Just to be in the atmosphere, at the Dome, and let them see my face. A lot of guys don’t get to come back here and play while they’re on an NBA team. This is a good stepping stone.”
Boeheim was honored before the game because he was an assistant coach for the United States’ gold-medal winning team at the basketball world championships.
Dave Bing, Boeheim’s college roommate who went on to a Hall of Fame NBA career spent mostly with the Pistons and now serves as mayor of Detroit, tossed the ceremonial jump ball. Both sat together at courtside as Johnson and Flynn marveled at the reception they received.
“Just being back in the Carrier Dome, Jonny and I looked at each other like, ‘This is crazy.’ I got chills,” Johnson said. “It was good seeing a lot of the faces I usually saw before games. I didn’t have to break that ritual. It was good to see them come out.”
Former Orange stars Pearl Washington, Lawrence Moten, Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Rafael Addison, Gerry McNamara, and Arinze Onuaku also were in the crowd.