EDINBURG — The Northern Arizona Suns came into Bert Ogden Arena with a dismal 3-16 record after snapping a 14-game losing streak in their last outing with a 102-100 win over the Iowa Energy.
They also showed up Friday with leading scorer Jared Harper on the bench due to injury. On paper, it may have looked like a Vipers win.
Thus the cliche — that’s why games aren’t played on paper.
The Suns went on a 15-4 run in the game’s final 4:35 to overcome the Vipers’ late lead en route to a 101-93 final score for their second straight victory, while the Vipers (6-17) lost for their third straight and for the fourth time in five games. It was the Vipers’ second-lowest score of the season after the team scored 78 in a loss at Oklahoma City on Dec. 14.
The Suns dominated the boards, out rebounding RGV 56-36 leading to 15 second-chance points. The Vipers also shot just 11-for-22 from the line, made more significant by the new NBA G League rule where there’s just one free throw awarded for every shooting foul. The free throw is worth one, two or three points based on where the attempted shot was taken.
Those nine missed free throws accounted for 17 potential points.
Brandon Sampson and Jaron Blossomgame, however, had strong performances for RGV scoring 24 and 20 points, respectively. Those 44 points, though, were nearly half of the team’s total, as the other eight rotation players combined for 49 points on just 38% shooting from the floor. Sampson and Blossongame combined to connect on nearly 52% of their shots (14 of 27).
Sampson had started the year slow, struggling and clearly frustrated with his slow start from 3-point land. For the past three or four games, however, he has been one of the team’s most consistent and electrifying performers.
“I’m getting opportunities because my teammates are trusting me to make plays,” the former LSU Tigers standout said. “They are also trusting me to get them involved. I may not be the one the next time or for the next four or five games. We just need to stay focused and play the full 48 minutes.”
Sampson had two powerful, fully extended one-hand dunks that brought the crowd to life. Blossongame, a former Clemson star, had back-to-back 3-pointers to end the third quarter and start the fourth quarter. His final 3-pointer gave RGV its biggest lead, 81-74, early in the fourth.
Other than Sampson, however, who scored the Vipers’ next 10 points before Kerwin Roach scored the team’s final basket, the offense was non-existent.
Northern Arizona not only dominated on the glass but also points in the point, outscoring the Vipers 72-44. Northern Arizona only connected on five 3-pointers, but the final two halted any RGV comeback. With Northern Arizona leading 95-89, Trayvon Palmer nailed a 3 for a nine-point advantage. After Sampson’s second thunderous dunk of the quarter, ShawnDre Jones hit his only shot from beyond the arc to push the lead to double digits, virtually putting the game out of reach.
“It’s a game of inches and everything small we did wrong turned out to be a big thing,” Sampson said. “Like if we made the wrong pass and they go down and make a three, that’s a five-point swing. We have to minimize those mistakes. They may seem small, but they’re not. We need to keep going at the end, not come out lackadaisical and play for the full 48 minutes. We have to fix our own mistakes.”
RGV returns home to face Agua Caliente at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 against Agua Caliente after three consecutive road games at Austin, Stockton and South Bay.