For their final game before the All-Star break, the Maine Red Claws threw a block party hosted by Ralph Sampson III.

A 6-foot-11 center, Sampson swatted nine shots as the Claws overcame a double-digit deficit in the third quarter on the way to a 91-81 D-League victory over the Delaware 87ers.

A crowd of 2,082 at the Portland Expo saw the Claws win consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 2-3.

“This was a much-needed win,” said Sampson, who also was 4 for 4 from the field and finished with eight points and nine rebounds. “We’ve had a little slide these past 10 games.”

Indeed, after opening the season with consecutive runs of 8-2, the Claws went 4-6 in their most recent stretch of 10. Playing for the third time in four days, they trailed by 10 at halftime.

“We were lagging in the first half,” Sampson said. “Everybody was fatigued. Going into the third quarter, we knew we had to pick it up.”


Sampson blocked Delaware’s first shot of the second half, a layup by Jared Cunningham, and the Claws embarked on a 19-8 run to take a 60-59 lead.

“I thought we had a couple poor mistakes in the first half on pick-and-rolls and in transition, but we fixed that up at halftime,” said Red Claws Coach Scott Morrison. “(Delaware) had to take tough shots for the most part in the second half.”

One night after the Red Claws tied a franchise record for 3-pointers with 22, they managed only 9-of-35 shooting from deep and 39 percent overall.

“If you would have told me that’s what we’d hold them to, I think we walk out of here with the win,” said Delaware Coach Kevin Young. “You’ve got to give credit to Sampson. He changed the game inside. Not only could we not make 3s, but then he was down there blocking and altering it seemed like every shot.”

Delaware (11-19) regained the lead twice late in the third before the Red Claws, on the strength of Jason Calliste’s 3-pointer with six seconds left, took a 71-67 lead into the fourth. It was two points with three minutes remaining, before a step-back jumper from 16 feet by Chris Babb, who finished with 14 points in his second game back from a five-game absence because of a knee injury.

Andre Stringer, also playing his second game since returning from a seven-game absence because of an ankle injury, nailed a 20-foot jumper to make it 87-81 with 36 seconds remaining.


Babb and Stringer each added two free throws to extend the final margin to 10, Maine’s only double-digit lead of the game.

The 87ers, an affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers, missed their final eight shots.

“We played better defense (Sunday) than we have the last couple weeks,” Morrison said. “It’s been slowly improving over the last three games, but (Sunday) it was back to the team we think we can be on defense.”

For the second game in a row, Omari Johnson came off the bench to lead the Red Claws in scoring. He finished with 20 after posting a season-high 30 in Saturday night’s 121-108 victory over Westchester. Andre Dawkins, on assignment from the Celtics while nearing the end of his second 10-day NBA contract, had 13 points.

Backup guard Luke Loucks, with started the season with Maine before a stint with Erie, returned to the Claws for the two weekend games but said his pro basketball career is now over. A Florida State graduate with a master’s in sports management and a degree in business management who spent the previous two seasons playing overseas, Loucks said he will find another line of work.

“I actually made the decision a few weeks ago,” he said. “I was in Erie for a little bit and they made some changes and a few of us got released. My wife and I decided it was time to move on and pursue some career options for the both of us.”

Loucks played 17 minutes and dished out four assists, including the one that set up Calliste’s big shot at the end of the third quarter. He also hit a 17-foot step-back jumper to beat the shot clock and put Maine ahead 62-60 late in the third.

“He did a great job running our offense, keeping our tempo up and getting guys open looks,” Morrison said. “We squeezed the last bit of juice out of the orange and sent him out a winner.”

NOTES: Morrison and eight members of his staff will head to Brooklyn for the D-League All-Star Game on Sunday and will lead the Eastern Conference team, including Babb and Tim Frazier, who is on a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. … Maine’s next three games are on the road. The Red Claws return to the Expo on Feb. 22 against Erie.

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