Toros stomp 66ers for second time in a week

The Austin Toros gained their second double-digit win, 94-80, over the Tulsa 66ers at the Cedar Park Center last night. It was the third time these teams had faced off against each other all season, and even more interesting in the past week.

The home team jumped out to an early lead after the first quarter, 23-16, despite losing new player Keith Clark to what looked like a wrist injury and was later pronounced a shoulder injury. After logging 2:41 in his first game of the season Clark left for the locker room and returned to the bench later in the game with an ice pack and what could only be described as a make do ace bandage sling. If the injury is capable of keeping Clark on the bench for several games it could be assumed that Clark could be cut from the team to make room for a new player. However, due to NBA training camp starting tomorrow, and the possibility of five Toros players being invited to training camp (more on that in a minute) it’s in the Toros best interest to hold on to Clark.

Tulsa outscored the Toros in the second quarter and had the opportunity to go in to halftime with a two-point lead. A hard foul committed by Ryan Reid (12 points, 12 rebounds) at the buzzer sent Terrance Woodbury to the line. Woodbury closed the gap with the Toros trailing 45-44.

Back from the half the Toros faced another injury. With 9:15 remaining in the third center Luke Zeller suffered a broken nose. His two points weren’t missed as the Toros began to pull away in the third compliments of their strong defense. The team limited Tulsa to 12 points and stretched their lead to double-digits, 67-57.

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Green joins Toros for double OT loss; Jones looks back on first season

The Austin Toros (22-28) managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a double-overtime offensive showcase Saturday night, capping off an up-and-down season. Texas pulled away the second overtime, winning 134-128.

“You’ve got to give Texas some credit because we kind of had the game in control,” head coach Brad Jones said. “We missed some free throws and they made some tough three pointers, but you’ve got to give them the credit for not quitting. But at the same time, we gave them some life by missing some free throws and having turnovers down the stretch.”

The Legends had everything to play for. A win meant they were in the playoffs, while a loss ended their season. The Toros had nothing riding on this one in terms of the postseason, yet they found themselves up 108-100 with about a minute left. That’s when the wheels came off.

Booker Woodfox made a three on the Legends next possession. Then, Texas trapped the Toros and came up with a steal and found Justin Dentmon open for a trifecta to make it 109-108 Toros with 15 seconds left.

After four clutch Aubrey Coleman free throws, the score was 113-110 with less than 10 seconds left. That’s when Rashad McCants saved the Legends season by hitting a three-pointer to tie the game with four seconds left. McCants had 28 points on the night.

Leo Lyons’ potential game-winner rimmed out, and Marcus Cousin could not control the tip in and this one was headed for an unexpected overtime period.

The extra period mirrored the end of regulation for the Toros. When Toro-for-a-day Danny Green (on loan from the Spurs) knocked down an open three, Austin was leading 118-113 with 1:40 left.

A 5-0 Legends run tied it at 118, before Coleman, who led the Toros with 30 points, made a three. That put Austin up 121-118 with nine seconds left. That’s when lightning struck again. Woodfox, who only played ten minutes on the night, made his second cold-blooded three of the game with two seconds left, tying the score.

Squeaky Johnson’s three at the buzzer looked good out of his hand, but hit the front of the rim, sending it into double overtime. This was the third home game to go into double-overtime this season, and second against the Legends.

Austin got up 127-123 on a Johnson three, but then the Joe Alexander show resumed. Alexander was two for two from the field and three for three from the foul line in the second overtime.

Sean Williams’ free throws with ten seconds left put his team up by four with ten seconds left and the Toros could not answer. Williams had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Alexander led all scorers and rebounders with 36 and 15.

Given the turnover in the D-League, Jones’ post game talk with his players was also his farewell speech to many of them.

“I told them that the goal in this league, whether you win a championship or not is we make them feel like they’ve gotten better,” he said. “That’s the goal of our staff. Everyday we come to work trying to help them get better, while at the same time winning some games. Hopefully they feel that way. We didn’t meet all of our team goals, but hopefully they met some of their individual goals.”

One player that already has a taste of the NBA is Green. On Saturday, Green was one of six Toros in double figures, with 19 points and seven rebounds.

“It was an exciting game for the fans,” Green said. “But if you’re a Toro, you’re pretty disappointed because we had the game won multiple times at the end, but we couldn’t just close out.”

Even though Green had virtually no time to practice and get acclimated with his team, he felt pretty comfortable.

“Given the short notice, I felt like things clicked pretty well,” he said. “I’m not the type of guy to come in and just put up a bunch of shots and force the issue. I know they have some things going here. So I just wanted to keep their chemistry flowing and play a small role and just knock down open shots for them and help them on defense hopefully.

“If they need me to do something, then yeah, but tonight, they really didn’t need that. They have some guards that can get in the paint and make some things happen.”

Green will now look to help the parent club down the stretch run as they try to snap their losing skid.

“I believe I’m going back to the Spurs tonight, we play Phoenix tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens from there,” he said. “Hopefully we can break the losing streak, so we’ll see what goes on. (The big guys) are all healthy and we’re playing better.”

Lance Thomas, who suffered a seizure on court last Saturday, was courtside cheering on his teammates.

“I feel fine,” Thomas said. “The hit I took was pretty bad at the moment with what happened, but I feel fine now. I have to wait a little bit until I have clearance from the doctors. From the standpoint of day-to-day from when it happened, I feel fine.”

Thomas said once he receives doctor’s permission to resume full-contact basketball, he will decide his next basketball move. He hates having to sit out and said this one was especially tough to watch.

“I hate watching period,” Thomas said. “Just to watch a nail biter like that, it was tough, especially when you want to get out there and help. I’ve been a part of this team since the beginning of the season, so it’s hard to watch my guys out there without me.”

Nevertheless, he was proud of his guys.

“I thought they left it on the floor,” he said. “I think there were plays where the other team did better than we did, and there were plays when we had to tough it out, but there was no question of our effort.”

Thomas is one of the Toros young up-and-comers with dreams of playing in the NBA. Jones would love to see all his guys fulfill their professional aspirations.

“I hope all these guys end up in the NBA or oversees making 50 grand a month, so hopefully none of them are back because they’re all making a gazillion dollars,” Jones said. “Having said that, I really like this group we have right now and obviously if it fit in their career path, then we would love to have them come back.”

Jones, who was talking with Spurs GM R.C. Buford and VP of Basketball Operations Danny Ferry after the game outside the locker room, will take the next few days to do some exit interviews and start planning for the summer.

“We’ll see what the Spurs want from us and what we have to do as a staff,” Jones said.

Overall, Jones said his first season with the Toros was both fun and disappointing.

“At times (I had fun),” Jones said. “Every year, there is a challenge. It was a little bit more of a challenge this year with all the roster turnover. Not being able to fulfill the team goals of winning more, I’m very disappointed about, but in the midst of all the fight is a lot of fun. Sometimes you just don’t get the outcome you desire.”

Thomas suffers seizure during Stampede game

In what was a very scary moment here at the Cedar Park Center, after running back on offense during the second quarter, Toros forward Lance Thomas had what appeared to be an episode of an epileptic seizure.

We have not found any history of seizures in his basketball history, but we’ll have more information after the game and wish him a speedy recovery.

UPDATE:

Thomas is going much better and even joked about getting back into the game.  Keep it here as more details are forthcoming.

Video recap: Austin Toros vs. Iowa Energy

Toros Fall to the Vipers on the Road, 118-103

With seven games remaining in the final two weeks of the regular season, the Austin Toros (19-24) needed this road win over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (30-14).

On the bubble for the playoffs, the Toros had recently started to make a last-minute surge for playoffs. The Vipers victory will make it that much harder for the team to pass the Texas Legends and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants for the eighth seed.

Kyle Weaver, who led the Toros with 24 points, gave the team a 25-23 lead at the end of the first quarter with a 3-point jumper. With nine lead changes in the second quarter alone, both teams traded buckets and kept the game within four points. At the half the game was tied at 49.

In the third quarter the Vipers began to pull away, outscoring the Toros 37-21, as the Toros couldn’t contain the Vipers from beyond the arc. Jerel McNeal’s long shot, the Vipers sixth of the quarter, stretched the home team’s lead heading in to the fourth, 86-70. McNeal scored 12 of his 18 points in the third quarter.

Their lead continued in the fourth as the Toros defense ran out of gas. Mouhammad Faye’s pair of freebies with 10:26 remaining in the game stretched the Vipers lead to 21, the largest of the night. Seconds later Leo Lyons jump started a Toros 11-2 run. It was not enough as the Vipers regrouped and continued to score in the paint. The Vipers win still gave the Toros the advantage on the season series, 5-4.

The Toros had five players score in double figures. The bench combined for 60 of the Toros 103 points. With the loss, Austin still remains out of the final spot for the D-League playoffs.

The team heads to Tulsa on Tuesday before returning home for a three-game home stand.

Lance Thomas: Reading books and working hard

Austin Toros forward Lance Thomas has a knack for giving 100 percent of his energy to everything he does. Recently he started reading books. Thomas claims he has read more books in the last three months than he did in four years at Duke.

“All my teammates laugh at me because I’m sitting there with my little Kindle,” Thomas said. “I love it, I’ve been breezing through books. When we’re in the airport, sometimes I don’t even hear them say we’re boarding, I’m so glued to my book.”

When Thomas is on the basketball court, he has a similar level of focus. His goal with the Toros is to improve and make an NBA team. NBA scouts have noticed his attitude and talent. Head coach Brad Jones said Thomas is always one of the first players scouts ask about.

“They say he catches their eye right away with the way he’s committed to both ends of the floor and the way he works,” Jones said.

Thomas is hoping it is finally his time to shine after a college career defined by sacrifice.

He was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of Newark St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey where he led his team to two state titles.

His transition to playing college basketball at Duke was not what he expected initially. As a freshman, he was able to start for the Blue Devils, but was asked to play defense and rebound by Coach Mike Krzyzewski and not worry so much about scoring points.

“That’s all he wanted me to do,” Thomas said. “I was like, ‘that’s all I have to do to get on the floor?’ I did everything he asked me to and played some good minutes my freshman year.”

He stayed on the floor, starting all four years. His role would not change much though. Defense and hustle were what Krzyzewski wanted from Thomas, so that’s what he gave him. 

Thomas accepted his role and developed into the guy who would lead his team by example, always hustling, always giving it his all defensively. No longer was he concerned about how many points he scored, Thomas did what his coach told him to do to help the team win.

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Making sense of the Toros playoff chase

The Austin Toros are chasing down a playoff spot, and a lot can happen in such a short time for the squad.

After the Sioux Falls Skyforce defeated the Texas Legends on Wednesday night, here is how the current playoff chase is shaking up for the Toros and the other teams in the playoff hunt:

The (Rio Grande Valley) Vipers clinched the berth when the Sioux Falls Skyforce beat the Texas Legends 99-96 in overtime Wednesday night. This guaranteed that the Legends couldn’t catch the Vipers in the standings. Three teams can finish tied with the Vipers if the Vipers lose out and they win out — the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Austin Toros and Idaho Stampede. The Toros and Stampede have two games left against each other, meaning that only one of them can win out to catch the Vipers. Should the Vipers, Mad Ants and Toros all finish 28-22, the Toros will clinch the No. 7 seed by virtue of taking the aggregate head-to-head series with the Vipers and Mad Ants 6-to-4. The Vipers would then clinch the No. 8 seed by virtue of winning the head-to-head series with the Mad Ants, 1-0. Should the Vipers, Mad Ants and Stampede all finish 28-22, the Stampede will clinch the No. 7 seed by virtue of taking the aggregate head-to-head series with the Vipers and Mad Ants 3-1. The Vipers would then clinch the No. 8 seed by virtue of winning the head-to-head series with the Mad Ants, 1-0.

If only the Mad Ants win out and the Vipers lose out, the Vipers would finish as the No. 7 seed. If only the Stampede or Toros win out and the Vipers lose out, the Vipers would finish as the No. 8 seed.

Clear as mud isn’t it?

The Toros will next face the Vipers on the road this Friday at 7 P.M.

For the Toros it’s win or go home

The month of March brings many great things: warmer weather, longer days, and more importantly March Madness. The overwhelming amount of college basketball turns bandwagon fans in to betting junkies who fill out multiple brackets that tend to cause more frustration than one could assume.

In the D-League, the month of March brings a win or go home mentality. With three teams already claiming post-season invitations, five spots are still up for grabs. Unfortunately for the Toros they are in a position where if they don’t keep winning their season could be over in 11 games.

Talk about a pressure situation.

Fortunately for the Austin Toros the team has four players who have experience playing in March. Most importantly they have a guy who knows what it is like to play for a national title. Who’s that guy? Toros’ Lance Thomas.

Thomas, who was drafted in the second round by the Toros, won a national title last year with the Duke Blue Devils. The thrilling win came in a close victory over Butler 61-59. Thomas is the only Toros player who knows what it is like to be invited to the big dance every year during his collegiate career.

So what’s the difference that a year makes?

“It’s the same for me. March is big for college basketball. I got a taste of winning and I still want to win,” said the rookie forward.

His teammates who have participated in the NCAA tournament (Tre Kelley 2004, Kyle Weaver 2007-2008, and Aubrey Coleman 2010) have never made it past the Sweet 16.

The experience that the team has from playing in March might be enough to allow them to continue their season in April. Is it enough to carry them to the D-League Finals? Who knows but Thomas seems confident that the team has what it takes to bring the first D-League Championship trophy to Austin.

“We’ve got quick play. We’ve figured out what we need to do to win. A lot of teams have maxed out already. We’ve got a good group of guys who share a goal to make it to the next level.”

Before the Toros can make plans for playoffs they must first continue their two-game win streak on the road. The team tips-off tonight against the Texas Legends in their first of four remaining games against their in-state rivals.

When asked if Duke had what it takes to repeat Thomas was confident in his response.

“Definitely. Leadership and talent are both there. I’ve watched them be the tougher team many times this season.”

Thomas’ alma mater faces off against Maryland tonight at 6:00 CST in the ACC quarterfinals. A win over the Terps could lead to a better seed at the NCAA tournament for the fifth ranked Blue Devils.

Follow Lance Thomas on twitter @slangmagic.

Squeaky Johnson: Finding success in the face of adversity

Austin Toros point guard Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson is in his fourth year with the team, a rarity in a league where rosters change from day-to-day. Since his first year in 2007, Johnson has seen dozens of teammates come and go, some to the NBA, some to other professional teams and some just out of basketball.

Johnson has fallen into the category of a good player that everyone likes and is a team leader, but has never been able to break into the NBA. For Squeaky, whose road to Austin was long and rocky, playing for the Toros has not been a minor league struggle, but a dream realized.

“I never actually thought that I would be the guy that would be on the pedestal,” Johnson said. “Going to the NBA wasn’t the ultimate goal for me. For me it’s being successful and not doing things that my father wouldn’t agree of. With that being said, yeah I’ve made it and for me to continue playing basketball without actually thinking it’s a job or getting a job, I’m making it.”

Squeaky is having his best season yet with the Toros, averaging a career high in minutes (34.5), points (12.3) and assists (6.5). Overall, Johnson has enjoyed his time in Austin.

“It’s been great man,” Johnson said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. I went from starting, to being a role player, to a guy that was just supporting the team in different ways. Now I got the job of starting and being part of the team and I’m excited about it.”

Johnson wants to keep playing basketball as long as possible and said he would love to be back with the Toros for a fifth season. If that doesn’t work out, he would be fine with playing somewhere overseas. 

Squeaky, who was given his nickname by his aunt after a character from Laverne and Shirley (Squiggy), has had some stability the last four years as a member of the Toros, something he has not always had. Johnson was a senior star point guard at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown of New Orleans.

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Clinch waived by Toros, joins Red Claws

Lewis Clinch, who has been a member of the Austin Toros for the last two seasons, was waived this weekend.

Lewis ClinchIt didn’t take long for Clinch to get picked up. He was recently signed by the Maine Red Claws and scored eight points in his debut with the team yesterday.

Before being waived, the 6-3 Clinch was averaging 8.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.

Clinch started the season off on the right foot as the starting shooting guard, averaging over 15 points per game through his first nine games. Then his minutes, and his production on the floor curtailed.

There was another drop in playing time and production in early January, around the same time the Toros signed Aubrey Coleman, who replaced Clinch in the starting lineup.

When the Toros traded for Moses Ehambe, it seemed as though Clinch’s days were numbered.

Mikkayla Guillett, who spotted that Clinch’s name was absent from the roster while she was covering last night’s game against the Vipers, spoke to coach Brad Jones about Clinch after the game.

“Lewis is a good player and he’ll do well wherever he goes,” Jones said. “We just felt like it was time to part ways with him.  We felt like we wanted to get a look at Moses Ehambe and this is the way it works.”

Mikkayla Guillett contributed to this report.