Williams leads frontcourt surge as RGV Vipers use defense to take down Iowa Wolves

HIDALGO — With three of the RGV Vipers’ primary scorers and ballhandlers unavailable for Friday’s game, Houston Rockets assignment player Troy Williams looked to attack on offense.

Williams scored 30 points with 11 rebounds to lead a huge night for RGV’s frontcourt and lift the Vipers to a 119-101 win at State Farm Arena.

“Just seeing how we had most of our players go down, I feel like it’s a bigger role on me to take,” Williams said. “We came out and we played together, and the game speaks for itself.”

Williams’ 30 points were two off a season high, and he racked them up on 27 shots — 16 more than RGV’s next highest total.

The Vipers were without usual backcourt stalwarts R.J. Hunter (19.9 points per game), Monte Morris (18.5 points, 6.5 assists per game) and Markel Brown (14.4 points, 5.2 rebounds per game).

Morris was with the Denver Nuggets per his two-way contract and had 10 points with six assists and three steals in 22 minutes of a 130-104 loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday. Brown, a two-way player for the Rockets, also appeared in that game, scoring three points with two assists in nine minutes. Hunter was with the Vipers but was inactive due to injury.

“We’ll see tomorrow,” Vipers coach Matt Brase said of Hunter’s status. “Just a little knee tendinitis, just precautionary, kept him out tonight. Hopefully a little rest gets him ready to go.”

The Vipers scored the final basket of the third quarter and the first eight points of the fourth — a 10-0 run to build a 101-89 lead.

Midway through the period, RGV held Iowa scoreless for nearly five minutes — from 8:49 to 4:00. The Vipers scored 10 points during the Wolves’ drought to build a 111-97 edge. The Wolves never threatened late.

“It seemed like we had a little more energy and effort out there,” Brase said of the fourth-quarter surge. “I don’t know if the scheme changed or anything, but it seems like guys were playing a little harder.”

The Wolves totaled just 12 points in the fourth quarter, marking one of the Vipers’ best defensive quarters of the year.

RGV allowed 12 points to Long Island during the second quarter of a 111-94 win on Dec. 6 and yielded only nine points to Reno during the fourth quarter of a 114-100 win on Nov. 25.

Iowa shot 22.7 percent during Friday’s fourth quarter. The Wolves didn’t attempt a free throw, grabbed just three offensive rebounds and turned the ball over five times during the period.

“We were talking more. We were communicating,” Williams said. “We felt more in sync tonight, and I thought that made a difference.”

Once owners of the best record in the G League after a 13-game winning streak, the Vipers entered Friday having lost five of their last six games and eight of their last 10. Friday’s win lifts RGV to 21-17 on the year, in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference.

“Going from a 13- or 14-game winning streak to losing however many games we have, nobody wants to do that,” Williams said. “So this W is huge for us. It’s huge.”

The Vipers’ frontcourt controlled the game throughout, as RGV scored 70 points in the paint to Iowa’s 36 and owned a 55-33 advantage in rebounding.

Chris Walker pulled in 15 points with 11 rebounds, Isaiah Hartenstein scored 14 points with eight rebounds, and Chinanu Onuaku scored 12 points.

“Our dynamic switched tonight. Instead of a 3-point shooting team, we’re more attacking, getting downhill,” Brase said. “We changed our playbook a little bit the last couple days, just to run a couple different actions without Monte here, because we relied on him so much. We did a couple extra things just to put less pressure on our guys.”

One of the beneficiaries of the change was Kyle Davis, who often manned the point for RGV in his most significant action since being acquired on Jan. 22. He entered the night with just three points in 14 minutes across three games before posting 10 points, six assists and three rebounds in 25 minutes on Friday.

Davis participated in training camp with the Vipers but was one of the team’s final cuts. He continued to train at home in Chicago before getting the call back, and he said he’s been incessantly studying the team’s plays on an iPad and staying after practice to get up to speed.

“I was just excited and blessed to come back with the guys I spent training camp with,” Davis said. “Come back and finish off the season with them and have fun with them.”