EDINBURG — Angel Rodriguez said that when he thinks on the basketball court, he’s not himself.
“I need to play by instinct,” the RGV Vipers point guard said. “Tonight, I didn’t think.”
Rodriguez scored a team-high 25 points to lead the Vipers in scoring, and the defending NBA G League champions got an energetic performance as well from Ray Spalding, Kerwin Roach and Brandon Sampson en route to a 133-129 victory over the South Bay Lakers on Saturday at Bert Ogden Arena.
The win snaps an eight-game losing streak that had plummeted the Vipers to the worst record in the league. The win improves them to 2-8 as they look ahead to December with only two of 10 games at home.
Former Vipers fan favorite Gary Payton II returned as a member of the South Bay Lakers and received his championship ring during a ceremony at halftime. He and teammate David Stockton also led a fourth-quarter comeback attempt that had the Vipers’ lead dwindle from 117-94 early in the fourth quarter to 131-129 before Sampson sealed the win with pair of free throws.
“It would have been nice to get both the ring and the win,” Payton said after the game. “But the ring feels great, looks great and I was just blessed to be a part of that team.”
Payton finished with 26 points on 13 of 16 shooting, while Stockton, son of NBA all-time assist leader John Stockton, led all scorers with 30 points, 10 assists and four steals.
The Vipers used a spirited second quarter to take a 68-49 halftime lead. They scored a season-high 40 points in the period, outscoring the Lakers 40-22 in the quarter. It was the first time in the Vipers’ four-game homestand that they didn’t have to battle back from double digits down in the first quarter.
South Bay held a 43-40 lead in the second period when RGV exploded for a 28-6 run the reminder of the period. Sampson, who has struggled all season to find his range from beyond the arc, scored nine points during that span, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and getting another non-traditional three from the free-throw line.
Jaron Blossomgame started the run with a layup and free throw to tie the game at 43. He also ended the quarter with a fast-break dunk and the 68-49 advantage.
Roach, a former University of Texas player, energized the Vipers in the first half, scoring 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including 3 of 7 from 3-point land, where the Vipers were 9 for 30 (30%) at the half.
“He (Roach) played some valuable minutes for us and brought a lot of energy to us today,” first-year head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah said. “As the backup PG (point guard) and with a couple injuries, he’s going to have to come up and play that spot. When Angel fouled out, he did a great job of controlling the tempo for us.”
Spaulding took over the show to open the second half. After Rodriguez knocked down a 3-pointer and scored on a layup it was Spalding who showed versatility from both inside and out. He scored the Vipers’ next 12 points with three dunks, a 3-pointer and a catch and shoot down low. He finished the game with 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.
“Ray was unbelievable,” Abdelfattah said. “He had big rebounds, big putbacks and several big plays for us all game, but especially in that third quarter.”
Abdelfattah said the key to the game was the fluidity of the ball and player movement. The team ended with 33 assists on the night.
“We had 15 assists at halftime and finished with 33 assists,” Abdelfattah said. “Any time you’re sharing the ball like that, guys are getting touches and getting 3s off the catch. Hopefully we can continue to share the ball and if we do we are going to be a tough team to beat. Just need to understand the points of making the extra pass.”
Sampson ended the night with 21 points while Roach and Jaron Blossomgame each scored 22. Blossomgame and Jarred Vanderbilt each had 11 rebounds, as well. The Vipers led by as many as 25 points at 78-53 early in the third quarter during Spalding’s offensive streak.
RGV returns to action Monday at Fort Wayne. Its next home game is at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 against Iowa.
“We’ve lost a lot of games and it has been a while to get back into the win column,” Rodriguez said. “Now we need to get more wins.”