RGV Vipers survive late push, lead wire to wire in playoff win against Texas Legends

HIDALGO — As Friday’s opening round playoff game ticked into the final 30 seconds, the Texas Legends’ Jalen Jones unleashed a 3 in transition from the left wing. Texas grabbed the offensive rebound and worked the ball around to Brandon Ashley, who was alone in the right corner and had plenty of time to line up a look at the basket.

The two 3-point attempts were Texas’ first chances to pull into a tie with the RGV Vipers since the opening minutes of the first quarter. But both shots clanged off iron, and RGV held on for a 107-100 win at State Farm Arena.

“They came out in the second half, and they threw a couple punches at us,” RGV Vipers coach Matt Brase said. “We hit a couple patches of a little confusion and a couple other things, but we bounced back. We never gave up the lead, and we finished the game strong.”

The Vipers led from wire to wire, stretching the margin as large as 21 points. Though the Legends pulled within one point on multiple occasions, they never attempted a shot to tie or take the lead until the final 30 seconds.

The Vipers move on to face the Austin Spurs at 6 p.m. Monday at the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park. Austin claimed the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a 32-18 record, including wins in three out of four matchups against RGV.

The Vipers held the Legends to just 38.6 percent shooting on Friday. Texas had just one stretch of dangerous offense, scoring 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting (68.4 percent) during the first nine minutes of the third quarter. Outside of that burst, Texas hit just 21 of 69 attempts (30.4 percent).

“We knew every one of their calls. Preparation. We might have stayed at the gym two or three hours every day, just getting their calls down. Our focus was defense,” Vipers guard Monte Morris said. “That was the game plan tonight, and we were locked in. You can tell on defense, that might’ve been the best defense we played all season.”

Morris led the Vipers with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He also chipped in seven rebounds and seven assists against two turnovers.

RGV also had significant bench contributions from Chris Walker, who posted 14 points with nine rebounds, and Cleanthony Early, who netted 10 points.

A Denver Nuggets two-way player, Morris said he talked to Brase about moving out of the starting lineup to help the Vipers maintain continuity when he’s not with the team.

“I’m embracing this role coming off the bench being that spark, because a lot of teams need it,” Morris said. “Doing this is a big step for me and my maturity level. I talked to the guys on the bench and got them going. That’s my job. I talked to Chris and kept him going. He had a great night tonight, and that’s how we’re going to go from here on out.”

From the starting group, Houston Rockets two-way player R.J. Hunter scored 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting, Rockets assignment player Chinanu Onuaku scored 11 points with nine rebounds and five assists, and Darius Morris posted 14 points with eight assists and eight rebounds.

The Vipers connected on 10 of their first 15 shots to build a 27-12 advantage late in the first period.

That margin held for most of the second quarter before RGV went on a late 10-0 run to carry a 55-37 margin into the break.

Texas opened the second half on a 16-2 run to pull within four points early in the third quarter. RGV found a scoring surge to stop the run, but the Legends continued their blistering offensive pace, twice pulling within one point of the Vipers.

RGV went on a 9-0 spurt early in the final period, building the lead back as large as 87-74. But the Legends continued to hang around and chip away at the lead, setting up the tense final moments.

“We lost a little bit of our juice, but we picked it up in the fourth quarter,” Walker said. “Got a lot of stops, and made a lot of big shots.”