PORTLAND – Two late turnovers cost the Maine Red Claws a victory Thursday in the team’s first game back since the All-Star break.

The Rio Grande Valley Vipers came away with a 107-101 victory over the Red Claws in front of a packed afternoon crowd at the Portland Expo.

But the Red Claws (14-22) have “come a long way,” said Coach Austin Ainge, and flashed a defensive presence yet to be seen this season.

Maine blocked a franchise-record 14 shots with two new big men added in recent weeks and held the Vipers to 41.7 percent shooting.

“It came down to the last two minutes and they executed better than we did,” said Ainge. “We’ve come a long way, though. And I’m proud of the guys. That’s a good offensive team and we held them to 40 percent shooting.

“We’re closer. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”

Trailing 98-96 with 1:10 left, DeShawn Sims of the Red Claws sent a pass back to his point guard that got away.

Vipers guard Jerel McNeal scooped up the ball as it rolled down the court for an easy layup, and the Vipers had a 100-96 lead.

On Maine’s next possession, Mario West tried to move inside the paint and was stripped, a turnover that turned the final minute into a race for the Red Claws to foul.

“I feel like we made a lot of progress in this game,” said Maine point guard Jamar Smith.

“You can tell everyone is rejuvenated. Unfortunately the two minutes of the game we didn’t do well is what cost us. But we are definitely getting closer to where we need to be.”

Before that the Red Claws flashed a defensive game they hadn’t yet shown this year, using two new acquisitions of big men — 6-foot-9 Vernon Goodridge and 7-1 Bamba Fall.

Goodridge had six blocked shots, 6-10 Tiny Gallon added five and Fall had two.

“We’re almost a new team. We have some guys who can really block,” said Sims, who had a game-high 30 points.

“It gives you so much more confidence out there when you know you’ve got help.”

The lead changed 16 times, and included an 8-2 and 6-0 run by the Red Claws in the second quarter that made it 52-52 at the half.

Maine trailed 26-20 after the first quarter. Fall and Smith combined for three blocked shots in the final minute of the half, and Sims drove for a layup to tie it at the break.

The teams traded leads for much of the third quarter before the Vipers took an 83-77 lead after three.

Maine’s biggest trouble, aside from the late turnovers, was a rough day at the foul line.

Maine hit 31 of 43 free-throw attempts. Not terrible but not good enough.

“In a game that close every point matters,” said Ainge.

NOTE: Former Red Claws Matt Janning and Terrel Harris were on the court for the Vipers. 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]


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