EDINBURG — The RGV Vipers got going early, and never looked back, christening Bert Ogden Arena with an opening night win.
The Vipers (1-0) won 119-103 over the Memphis Hustle (0-1) in the Vipers’ home opener Saturday at Bert Ogden Arena.
“It felt really good,” Brandon Sampson said of the win. “I was building some chemistry with these guys, and of course to get the win in the home opener, it felt really good.”
The Vipers led wire to wire. They were up by 18 at the half, and led by more than 20 for the majority of the fourth quarter.
Danuel House and Sampson each scored more than 20 points to lead the way for the Vipers.
“D-House is really versatile,” Sampson said. “Great size for him, and it is going to be really hard to guard him. When we are both clicking, it is a great thing for the team.”
Sampson was scorching hot to start the game. He hit three straight 3-pointers to push the Vipers lead to 9 early in the first quarter. House found his rhythm at the end of the second quarter to push the Vipers lead to 20. Sampson finished with 27 on 5-of-10 from three. House finished with 20.
“Those are two ridiculously athletic guys, and yet they can both shoot the hell out of the ball,” Vipers coach Joseph Blair said. “When you have two guys like that at the same time, and they can both play multiple positions — Sampson can play the 1, 2 or 3, and House, he can really play 1-5 if you need him to — there are a lot of great things that can happen. “
The Houston Rockets assigned Zhou Qi to the Vipers on Thursday, meaning he didn’t get a single contact practice in with the Vipers, but it was no matter as he got going early.
“The good thing is up in Houston they have a great player development staff up there. They do a great job of keeping him ready,” Blair said, adding that because Qi was with the Vipers last year, the familiarity make it an easier transition for him.
“I’m very pleased with his performance tonight. I think he was more aggressive than he has been in the past.”
Qi had a double-double with 12 points and a G-League career high 14 rebounds.
“He’s been up there, so you know he was ready,” Sampson said. “It’s just really about catching things on the fly. He had maybe two days to watch film, one day to practice, so it was all about squeezing everything in. As he gets more time, he will continue to play well.”
House is a tremendous finisher, which opens things up for shooters around him. The same can be said for Angel Rodriguez. Rodriguez was eager to get going after a quiet exhibition performance, but a hot start was not to be. Rodriguez committed two fouls and two turnovers, and was yanked from the game after less than five minutes.
Rodriguez finally got going in the second half.
“It felt great to break through,” Rodriguez said. “The beginning was a slow start; it was kind of frustrating. At the end of the day, it is a long game, and we have a lot of depth on this team. They kept the rhythm, and it was just a matter of time.”
On the second basket of the second half, Rodriguez hit a bomb from deep, and the relief and joy powered a strong showing.
Rodriguez scored 16 points on 3-of-4 from 3-point range and added three assists. The 5-foot-11 guard added one steal and two rebounds in almost 24 minutes.
“He’s a rock in our offensive arsenal, as well as defensively,” Blair said. “He has great court vision, and there are a couple of those kick-out passes where he got to show that tonight.”
Sampson was pleased to receive a pass or two from Rodriguez, and he is excited about the potential of their pairing.
“Angel is one of the best people at finding guys,” Samspon said. “He might throw the ball when you are not expecting it, so you just have to be ready at all times when he is on the court.”
Rodriguez loves the style of play, and he knows it’s only a matter of time before they all get clicking.
“The system, the spacing and stuff is great,” Rodriguez said. “I have to make little adjustments. Today I had some unforced turnovers, and it was just guys were cutting and I thought they were going to stay out at the line. It’s just a matter of watching film, talking to them and getting on the same page, and then everything will just happen naturally.”
Things looked pretty natural on Saturday.
“We played well,” Blair said. “There are still a lot of things we need to clean up. We let them have way too many points in transition. But it was a great way to start the season.”