EDINBURG — The Rio Grande Valley Vipers looked to cap off their three-game home stand by extending their G League-leading and season-high three-game winning streak against the Texas Legends on Saturday night.
Instead, the Rio Grande Valley’s rollercoaster season took another unexpected, sharp twist and turn. With a short bench and a lackluster shooting performance, the highpoint of the Vipers’ quickly turned into the team’s nadir as they fell to the Legends 125-99 in their most lopsided loss of the season at Bert Ogden Arena.
“It was just a bad game overall,” RGV head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah said. “It was just a collective group of things on both ends of the floor. We’ll move on from this and get better.”
The Vipers and Legends battled early on in a back-and-forth first quarter that featured eight ties and several lead changes. Texas carried a one-point lead into the second, but that was the closest RGV came to retaking the lead.
Texas made its first three shots in the first 90 seconds of the second to move out in front by six. The Vipers, however, were held scoreless for the first four minutes of the frame, which gave the Legends plenty of opportunities for easy looks in transition and jumpstarted a 13-2 run to give them a double-digit advantage.
“After the first quarter, we were down 22-21. There were still a couple spurts in the first where we struggled and had some unforced turnovers. But then at the start of the second, they got a couple of leak outs in transition,” Abdelfattah said. “Chad Brown did a great job getting to the offensive glass. They got a couple of easy ones and before you knew it, they were up 12. Then it just went downhill.”
The game quickly started to unravel from there for the Vipers, who were outscored by 19 points in the second. The team tried to claw its way back into the game with the 3-point shot, but tried to do too much at once and forced several subpar shots from behind the arc.
Rio Grande Valley went into the break facing a hefty halftime deficit after converting on just 2 of 17 shots from deep for a paltry 11.8% clip.
“That’s what we do; that’s our offense. Guys have just got to be able to shoot it with confidence as well,” Abdelfattah said. “When you’re down 20 at the half and you’re 3 for 18 shooting or whatever it was, it’s going to be difficult to be in the game, especially with what we do because about 60% of our shots come from behind the arc. I just told the guys to stick with it and do what we do and keep moving forward.”
That’s when the Vipers’ dearth of depth coming off the bench started to play a factor.
The team was down to just nine players due to multiple injuries and the departure of center Ray Spalding, who was signed to a two-way contract by the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.
Spalding led Rio Grande Valley in rebounding in three of its last four victories, and the team definitely missed his touch on the glass.
The Vipers were outrebounded on the night 56-35. They also got outscored by 24 points in the paint, mainly on fast breaks.
“When you’re missing one of your better players, it’s obviously going to hurt you. It looked like we were just a step slow. The energy wasn’t there,” Abdelfattah said. “Guys were getting in there, but then late in the third and fourth quarter guys were just getting back cut. That’s kind of just ball watching and guys being a step slow and lazy, so they’ve got to be aware of where their man and the ball is. The rebounding just comes with not making shots. If we make shots, it’s a whole different story.”
The Legends led by as much as 38 in the fourth quarter before sealing the victory.
Forward William Howard and guard Brandon Sampson led the Vipers in scoring with 21 and 20 points, respectively. In just his second start of the season, center Matur Maker showed promise with six points and a team-high 10 rebounds on 60% shooting.
Abdelfattah was impressed with his performance and noted Maker had earned the bump in playing time.
“He’s going to compete his butt off on both ends of the floor. Playing the five for us is very important. You have a role and you’ve got to rebound the basketball, try to defend, switch one through five and you’ve got to be a roll threat at the rim,” Abdelfattah said. “He competed and that’s all you can ask for.”
No Rio Grande Valley players could be reached for comment following the conclusion of the contest.
The Vipers will hit the hardwood again for a three-game road trip starting with a matchup against Northern Arizona at noon Tuesday before wrapping up with back-to-back games at Sioux Falls at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. RGV will return to Bert Ogden Arena to host College Park on Tuesday, Jan. 28 to kick off a five-game home stand.