EDINBURG — Earlier in the season it was apparent that the RGV Vipers’ Brandon Sampson was frustrated. During warmups and games, he was struggling to find his offensive rhythm, or any rhythm.
That seems like nothing more than a fleeting, distant memory now. Not only did the LSU graduate revel for a moment in the postgame interview about his alma mater winning the college football national championship, but he also enjoyed the fact that his NBA G League team overcame a 29-9 first-quarter deficit to win their third straight game Tuesday, defeating the Agua Caliente Clippers 112-102 at Bert Ogden Arena.
Sampson scored a team-high 23 points, sank 7 of 10 shots from the field and was 4 of 6 from 3-point land while leading the Vipers in scoring for the third time in the past five games. Before the three-game win streak, the Vipers had yet to win back-to-backs games.
“It’s because of my teammates,” Sampson said about his recent turnaround, which has been big for the Vipers, a team in search of consistent leader. “They would see it (my frustration) in practice like everyone else but they trust me. ‘Keep shooting the ball, keep doing what you’re going to do,’ they would keep telling me. That frustration is just part of the game but my teammates make the difference.”
The Vipers shot a dismal 3 for 15 in the first quarter, and trailed 29-9. Along with easy shots that were missed they also turned the ball over 11 times in the first 12 minutes of the game, leading to 12 Clippers points. RGV’s lowest output in a quarter came in 2013, scoring just eight points in the fourth period of a game in 2013.
The Vipers, however, that showed up in the first quarter were clearly not the ones who came back out for the second quarter as they reeled off their third-highest quarter total with 43 points in the period and cut the lead from 20 to just 7 at 59-52. The Vipers had a pair of runs in that first half, outscoring the Clippers 11-2 during one blitz and a 15-2 run later in the quarter.
During the second offensive outburst, it was Sampson who started the run with one of his four 3-pointers. Point guard Isaiah Taylor, a University of Texas graduate, scored two from the free-throw line and then Sampson and Sindarius Thornwell nailed back-to-back 3s and a 52-33 deficit quickly turned into a 54-48 deficit following a tip-in from Ray Spalding and two points from the line by Sampson.
“This is a game of runs,” Sampson said. “You just have to hold on during those runs and be locked in.
The 11 first-quarter turnovers were more than half of the Vipers’ turnovers on the night, ending the game with 20 turnovers resulting in 14 Clippers points.
The Vipers tied the game twice in the third quarter only to watch that tie turn back into a deficit. With it tied a third time at 79, Jaron Bloosomgame scored twice down low, the second basket being a loose ball in the lane that he scooped and powered back up. Thornwell followed with a baseline dunk that took everyone seemingly by surprise and RGV had an 85-79 advantage.
Agua Caliente took a 93-91 lead but then the third big Vipers run of the night — an 11-0 run — put the game out of reach.
After starting the season 2-12, they are now 6-6 in their past 12 games. Agua Caliente fell to 11-12 on the season and had its three-game win streak end. RGV returns to action against the Texas Legends at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Bert Ogden Arena.