EDINBURG — Free throws are anything but free.
That fact seriously hurt the RGV Vipers on Tuesday in a 117-112 loss to the College Park Skyhawks in the first of a three-game home stand at Bert Ogden Arena.
The loss dropped RGV to 11-21 on the season, while College Park improved to 16-15.
RGV converted just 17 of 30 free throws for the game (56.7%). The new G League rule for free throws state that one shot will be given for any fouls committed, while shooting and that the one free throw will be worth the appropriate number of points. If someone gets fouled taking a 3-pointer and misses, they will receive one free throw worth three points, if the shot was worth two, one free throw will be awarded worth two points.
The Vipers’ performance, or lack thereof, from the free-throw line left 24 points off the scoreboard. Top that off with a dismal game from beyond the 3-point line (8 of 42, 19%) and some may say the Vipers were lucky to be in a competitive game late in the fourth quarter.
“We just missed shots, whether it was a lack of focus, nervousness, it was just one of those nights,” first-year head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah said. “We have to understand that you have to play the full 48 minutes starting with the first few possessions of the game. You can’t take them off.
“If you have full focus from the start, then we won’t be put in those situations late in the game.”
The Vipers led after one quarter but trailed at halftime and were down by as many 17 midway through the third. But a 23-4 run to end the third and begin the fourth, ending with a teardrop basket from Isaiah Taylor, gave the Vipers an 84-82 lead with 10:50 remaining in the game. A 9-0 run later in the quarter, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Jacobi Boykins and a one-handed dunk from Brandon Sampson, gave RGV a 97-92 lead.
The defense, however, then broke down as the Skyhawks’ Armoni Brooks buried three straight open look 3-pointers and College Park jumped back out in front 101-97. The Vipers closed it two within two, 101-99, but that was the closest they got. College Park nailed 9 of their final 11 free throws in the game’s final two minutes (meaning each free throw was worth one point apiece) to secure the win.
The pattern has become a common theme for the Vipers, falling behind either early or in the middle of the game, only to make a comeback and take a short-lived lead before falling down the stretch.
“I think we just let our offense dictate our defense a little too much,” said Taylor, who finished with 23 points and six assists on 10-of-15 shooting before fouling out. “We missed a few shots and lost focus defensively and it affected our defense. We need to come together and not let that hold us back.”
Jaron Blossomgame led the Vipers with a double-double, scoring a team-high 25 points to go with 10 rebounds. Sampson added 15 points, while Sindarius Thornwell and Boykins each scored 12.
Brooks had a game-high 32 points, knocking down 9 of 14 3-pointers. Marcus Derrickson added 24 points, pounding the glass and the paint for most of his scoring. He was 10 of 15 from the floor with 10 rebounds before fouling out.
There were 68 personal fouls called in the game and 56 free-throw attempts.
The Vipers return to action at 7 p.m. Thursday at home against Agua Caliente and play again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against the visiting South Bay Lakers. The Vipers defeated both of those teams earlier in the season at Bert Ogden Arena.