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Two nights after Osceola overcame an early deficit and ran away from the RGV Vipers, here they were again, down by as many as 18 and making another comeback attempt.
Key word there – “attempt.”
Jermaine Samuels’ steal and two-handed fast break jam pretty much sealed the thrilling matchup two days after Osceola captured a 143-127 win.
It gave RGV a 135-131 lead with 22 seconds remaining en route to an exciting and entertaining – at least for the fans – 137-133 win. Just like the entire night, the action was non-stop and intense. Unlike Wednesday, the Vipers never relinquished the lead to improve to 3-2 while Osceola dropped to 3-3.
RGV returns at 7:30 p.m. tonight against Oklahoma City in the third game of a six-game homestand.
The Vipers responded to every Magic run with one of their own. Still, the Magic started closing in during the second half behind former Vipers Trevelin Queen and Daeqwon Plowden with seven points each in the third period.
Leading by six to open the fourth, Thrae Mitchell’s steal and dunk, and Jalen Lecque’s 3-pointer from the corner gave the home team a 108-97 lead. But again, Osceola came running back and a Mac McClung 3-pointer made it 108-102.
Lecque followed with a blocked shot on a fast break and, on the next possession,drove the lane, made a circus shot and free throw as RGV pushed it back to 111-102.
Head coach Kevin Burleson was more intense and more animated on the sideline, looking up often at the clock as Osceola kept knocking on the door. The Vipers answered, but not in the fashion they did on Wednesday. On this night, they just kept closing it.
A Mitchell basket just before the halftime buzzer gave RGV a 77-66 lead after the Magic once again cut a huge Vipers lead down to 66-64. Mitchell got the steal near mid-court, Darius Days picked up the loose ball and fired it to the basket where Mitchell laid it in.
Jermaine Samuels scored four of his points as the Vipers rallied at the end of the half with an 11-0 run, including the fourth 3-pointer from Days.
Less than six minutes into the game, Days already had nine points and two rebounds – then he picked up his second foul, an offensive one away from the ball, with 6:22 remaining in the first quarter and with the Vipers lading 20-6.
The Vipers led by 14 in the second quarter on Wednesday when Osceola turned the tide and rolled to victory.
“That team has a unique style of play and they do a lot of things some teams do sometimes – they do it all the time..” Burleson said. “They slip out screens, they grab and hold and make it a half-court game. But I told the team we have to play one way the entire game – fast, with pace. Get the ball out fast when they make shots and rebound. If we do that ,we have a chance to beat them.”
Attacking the basket at every opportunity, Jarrett Culver drove the lane on two consecutive possessions and RGV held a 26-8 lead with nearly five minutes remaining in the first quarter. Cam Whitmore made it 28-12 and woke the crowd, flying down the lane with a two-handed dunk in the midst of three Magic defenders who could only watch.
“I think today we set the tone from the beginning,” Burleson said. “It’s very hard for teams to play up hill and when we got out in front early, they had to put in a lot of energy to come back from the long run.”
At that point, the Magic had yet to convert a 3-pointer, going 0-for-10 from beyond the arc, and NBA dunk champion MacMcClung didn’t score until a free throw with 2:10 remaining in the opening quarter. McClung hit a 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining in the period and the Vipers led 36-24.
“They’re a 3-point shooting team, they focus on it – they shot 50 today and try to shoot 50 threes a game,” Burleson said. “If all else fails, make them make layups the entire game and they weren’t used to that. That adjustment was huge for us, making guys go to the basket that don’t usually go and they struggled a little bit.”
Osceola converted 14 3-pointers on 52 attempts (26.9%) while RGV was 11-for-34 (32.4%). The Vipers held an advantage in nearly every statistical area, including points in the paint – 82-52 – and fast break points – 23-12.
Whitmore and Culver each scored 25 points, Days had 24 and Samuels scored 20 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Nate Hinton scored nine points to go with four steals, four assists and nine rebounds.
Queen again led the Magic with 34 points.