Vipers fall to hot-shooting Stars, 138-126

EDINBURG — Jacobi Boykins took his mouthpiece out and fired it to the floor after missing a shot in the fourth quarter of the RGV Vipers’ game against Salt Lake City.

A minute later he was taking a sullen walk to the bench and said “I’m sorry” to coach Joseph Blair.

Down by 20 and time running out, Blair told his player “it’s ok, this is where we are now but we’ll come back.”

Despite being overwhelmed for most of the night by a Stars’ offense that shot nearly 60 percent from the floor and 48 percent from 3-point land in a 138-126 on Tuesday night at Bert Ogden Arena, Blair put an interesting spin on the outcome.

“If it takes an old-fashion whooping to make us better, then so be it,” the first-year coach said. “And that’s what that was.”

Two players caused most of the problems for the Vipers, who fell to 32-16 on the year, but are already in the playoffs and looking for the number-one seed in the playoffs. Jairus Lyles scored a career-high 41 points on 11 for 14 shooting (and 8 of 10 from 3-point land) while 7-foot-2-inch Isaac Haas was a perfect 6 for 7 from the floor for 19 points. Lyles bested his career mark of 29 points that he set against the Vipers in November.

The Stars also scored 40 points in the second quarter and 40 in the third, giving the program 12 40-point quarters in team history, four of them are against the Vipers.

“We have to get back to what we do, and that starts with defense, not offense,” Blair said. “We need to guard the ball. That’s just basketball. When Lyles is shooting like that and they have other guys making threes who normally don’t, that’s tough to overcome.”

The Vipers jumped out to a 27-19 lead late in the fourth quarter. Dakari Tucker scored eight of his team-high 29 points in the quarter. Tucker was 5 of 9 from 3-point land while the remainder of the team was just 6 of 25 (24 percent). After that eight-point lead, Salt Lake City went on a ferocious 27-2 run to go up 46-29 and led 68-53 at the half.

The Stars led by as many as 27 points, 108-81 early in the fourth when Blair started making several lineup changes. Something seemed to click as the Vipers and they trimmed that lead to 122-109 with just less than three minutes remaining. Tucker, Michael Frazier and Tim Bond found some luck driving hard to the basket to close the gap but couldn’t get closer as the Stars held them at bay from the free-throw line.

Frazier led the Vipers with 30 points, followed by Tucker with 29 and Payton with 22 points and eight assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The Vipers were without Danuel House, who reportedly signed a new contract with the Houston Rockets and sat on the bench in street clothes. They were also without 7-footer Isaiah Hartenstein, who was in Houston on Monday reportedly for treatment for right Achilles soreness.

“Obviously with Isaiah and Danuel not playing we are going to need everyone else to step up and get more points,” Blair said. “But, hey, it’s not the end of the world. We are already in the playoffs and we are trying to get that number one seed and first round bye.

“So if what happened today is going to make us better tomorrow and for the future, it’s ok by me.”

The Vipers have two regular-season games remaining, traveling to Northern Arizona on Saturday before their final home game a week later, Saturday, March 23, against Sioux Falls.