PORTLAND – With a full roster, the Maine Red Claws might have a hard time beating the Austin Toros. Short-handed, they had no chance Sunday.
Starting the game with just eight players, then losing Lawrence Hill to a sprained ankle early in the second quarter, the Red Claws couldn’t keep up with the high-tempo Toros. The result was Maine’s worst loss of the season as Austin pulled away in the second half to beat the Red Claws 114-87 at the Portland Expo.
“I think we got fortunate,” said Brad Jones, coach of the Toros. “They were playing very, very well. We were having a hard time just getting close to them. They were running circles around us. Then (Hill) goes down and it kind of changed the whole game.”
That it did. Hill had scored 15 points, helping the Red Claws to a 13-point lead late in the first quarter. Not only was he scoring, but keying the Maine defense, which was playing much better than it did in Friday’s 119-112 loss to Austin.
Hill’s last play — a short jump hook on the right baseline — gave Maine a 45-33 lead. He came down awkwardly on his right foot and fell to the court. Austin went down to score a basket, and then the Red Claws called a timeout. But Hill was done and everything shifted.
“It seemed to sap our energy a bit,” said Dave Leitao, coach of the Red Claws.
Still, the Red Claws held on late into the second quarter. Xavier Silas (17 points, five assists) and Kenny Hayes (16 points, six assists) scored to give Maine a 56-53 lead. Then Justin Dentmon hit a 3-pointer to tie it and, after two Maine misses, Terrance Woodbury scored on a fast break to give the Toros a 58-56 halftime lead.
With just seven players, Maine couldn’t keep up with the Toros. The Red Claws struggled offensively — hitting just 14 of 40 (35 percent) of their shots in the second half, missing all eight 3-point attempts — and the Toros accelerated, hitting 26 of 43 shots (60 percent).
Maine was within eight late in the third quarter and 10 early in the fourth. But Austin kept pushing the ball for easy baskets and the Red Claws couldn’t respond.
“That’s what good teams do, what good players do,” said Leitao, of the Toros’ second-half surge “What we did well in the early parts of the game, we didn’t do later. We couldn’t get back on the defensive end.”
Silas said he didn’t think fatigue had anything to do with the Red Claws’ second-half shooting. But many of their shots were short, hitting the front of the rim. Morris Almond, who played all but one second of the first three quarters, scored just six of his team-high 23 points in the second half.
The loss didn’t eliminate the Red Claws from playoff contention, but it’s going to take a lot for them to get in. At 17-26, the most wins the Red Claws can get is now 24. The three teams that currently occupy the final three playoff spots all have 22 wins, meaning they would have to slump badly for Maine to have a chance.
“All we can do is play,” Silas said. “We can’t control who loses, who wins outside of us. We’re just trying to win every game and play as hard as we can.”
NOTES: The Red Claws leave for Texas, where they will start a four-game road trip Tuesday night against the Legends. They visit Austin for two games next Friday and Saturday. Maine doesn’t play at home again until April 1, when Springfield comes in … DeShawn Sims, who came back to the Red Claws on March 7 after his season ended in South Korea, was out with a foot injury. He will not make the trip and will see a foot specialist Monday. Courtney Pigram was once again missing from the bench. No word on his absence.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: