Austin Toros edge Rio Grande Valley Vipers in rematch 105-99

In the opening seconds of the Austin Toros’ rematch with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, it looked like fans would be treated to a repeat of Thursday’s 20-point loss. However, just under a minute in, Toros’ Coach Brad Jones called a time out and the home team returned to the court with a fire that was missing earlier this week. The Toros clawed their way back into the game and by the end of the first had managed a four-point lead on the reigning D-League champions. It was a lead they would not surrender, despite the Vipers best efforts.

The Vipers shot out to a five-point lead early before Coach Brad Jones called the team’s first time out after only 59 seconds of play. While the Vipers held onto the lead for several minutes, the Toros went on an 8-point streak midway through the quarter to tie the game at 11. Both teams battled to stay on top from that point on, but it was the Toros who ended the quarter with the 25-21 lead. The Toros again looked to forward Kevin Palmer for consistent scoring and Palmer added five in the first frame for the home team. James Anderson, who is still with the Toros on a conditioning stint from the Spurs, also added five points.

In the second, the Toros saw big contributions again from Palmer, who added 7 to his tally, and Lance Thomas, who had 9 points. However, the biggest difference in this game for the Toros was the commitment to play 48 full minutes of defense. The Toros pressured the Vipers, causing turnovers and making steals. This fire on the other end of the court led to offensive production for the Toros and missed opportunities for the Vipers. The Toros led by as much as 13 in the quarter, although the Vipers narrowed the gap to end the half with a deficit of only 3 and a score of 53-50.

Although the Toros held a commanding lead for most of the third, the Vipers were not going to give up easily. The visitors, cheered on by a small group of RGV Rowdies behind their bench, fought back and pulled within three points late in the third, but the Toros remained positive and stuck to their game plan. The third also saw offensive production from some new players for the Toros, as Jermaine Beal and Moses Ehambe put six points on the board. Guard Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson also added five to his tally. Another key to success for the Toros in the third was shutting down the play of Vipers forward Terrell Harris. Harris was held to only three points in the frame.

Late in the final period it looked as though the Toros might fall back into old habits when the Vipers battled back to close the scoring gap. However, solid play on both ends of the court kept the Toros at the top and never gave the Vipers an opportunity to snatch the lead again. Jermaine Beal and Aubrey Coleman each had 7 points for the Toros in the third quarter.

After the game, Coach Jones attributed the team’s success to having consistency as a group, and finally translating their success at practice to performance in a game. Jones said the team had a real “energy” about them, from one to eleven. A big factor in the game for the Toros was getting commitment from all 11 guys on the court. This commitment was evident on the stats sheet as Lance Thomas led the Toros with 17 points, but Kevin Palmer, James Anderson and Aubrey Coleman each had 15.

Kevin Palmer said the difference between Thursday and Saturday for the Toros was “defensive energy and hustle.” Palmer also attributed the team’s early success to staying positive and refusing to hang their heads when the Vipers went up early. After two strong back-to-back performances, Palmer is even more motivated to work hard and keep his place in the starting lineup.

The Toros will play in Utah on Monday and then head back to Texas for road games in Dallas and the Rio Grande Valley. Their next home game will be Thursday, February 24th against the New Mexico Thunderbirds.