Last night Austin hosted the first game of a three-game season-ending series against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, winning a close game that really didn't amount to much until the fourth quarter. Marat Kogut was on the scene again, though there were fewer weird calls and fewer fouls overall than Tuesday's Austin-Reno tilt.
The book against the Toros is that you can hang with them if you slow them down, and the Vipers did just that, limiting Austin to just 95 possessions. Malik Hairston was in the building but in street clothes after being waived by the Spurs, and there were times when the Toros missed his shot-making ability. It also meant Austin started, in essence, three point guards (Johnson, Burrell and Nelson) and two centers (Jones and Dawson).
For the Vipers, having Jawad Williams called up by the Cavs meant they missed a consistent scoring punch that could've given them the game, particularly since they shot a collective 6-22 from three-point range. The Viper get another shot in Austin on Friday, then the teams head south to play one more on Saturday. The usual too-long player comments after the jump.
Kurt Looby has gotten a lot of attention at RU of late, and it's warranted. He's a terrific rebounder with god hops, and finished with 12 rebounds and two blocks in 31 minutes. He had a particularly impressive one in the 4th quarter, getting in between Dwayne Jones and Serge Angounou to pull it down. He's a little raw offensively, because while he shot 4-5, that one he missed was pretty much the only one that wasn't a dunk, and his shot was a line drive that hit the front of the rim. He also has an incredibly awkward free-throw shooting form, where he basically pushes the ball towards the rim with his entire upper body. He could also stand to add some weight and muscle, particularly in his lower body, but there's definitely a lot to like about Looby.
Jared Jordan had a fairly quiet game, I thought, even though he finished with 11 points and nine assists. He didn't really penetrate with the ball until later in the game, but he knows where his teammates are and makes solid decisions. He also had two nice alley-oops to Looby late in the game, one to pull within two and another to tie it up. Jordan also isn't particularly quick, but he was able to get around both Nelson and Johnson.
Julian Senseley caused some problems on the offensive end at times, being too quick for either Dawson or Angounou to handle on the outside but also being able to play inside against Dwayne Jones. Ultimately, though, he didn't have a great shooting night (6-16), and neither did Trent Strickland (9-23). With Jawad Williams gone one or both of those guys will have to start hitting more shots in these last two games. Backup center Rashid Byrd isn't much on offense end, but he had five blocks in a four and a half minute stretch in the fourth. It was pretty amazing to see.
DeMarcus Nelson played off the ball for most of the game, except when it came down to the end, when he took control. He took and hit a fair amount of outside shots early on, which makes the Tulsa game seem more like a fluke. He's definitely a good finisher at the rim, but he needs to work on his point guard skills. He didn't always make the best decisions with the ball (seven turnovers overall to six assists), and even on plays where, for example, it led to a made three, dribbling away from screens isn't something you should make a habit of doing. He also passed the ball to where Jamaal Thomas was on one play, instead of leading him, and when Thomas cut to the basket the ball ended up behind him, off his hands and out of bounds. His offensive game is pretty well developed, but if he's going to have the ball in his hands as much as he does, he needs to cut down on the turnovers.
Dwayne Jones had another poor shooting night, and also missed almost half of his free throws. His form was still good on them, though, so that should lead to better percentages in the future. He really stepped up his defense at the end, and there was a great play in the fourth quarter that kept the Vipers at bay (I didn't mean to do that, but I'm also not changing it). Jared Jordan found himself all alone driving to the hoop, and it really looked like an easy layup. But Jones turned his head at the right moment, and stepped across the lane to challenge. Jordan pulled up and released a floater, and while Jones didn't block it, Jordan had to release it early enough that it airballed short of the rim. Jones got rebound and the Toros scored on the other end. Jones isn't great about stepping out to challenge on the perimeter, but that lane is pretty much his if he wants it to be.
Eric Dawson also had a kind of meh game, shooting 6-15, and while he showed a nice midrange shot at times, he also airballed a stepback jumper at one point. Again, he's not really quick enough to play on the perimeter, but he showed some decent post defense, breaking up an alley-oop in the second quarter and was responsible for a top-notch play at the end of the game; down 106-105, Jared Jordan once again drove to the basket, but Dawson not only blocked the layup, but saved it from going out of bounds and tossed it to Burrell just before time expired.
Jamaal Thomas has technically been with the team since late February, but Tuesday's night's game against Reno was the first time he's played in a month and last night's 25 minutes was the most he's played since January 4. He had a solid game off the bench against the Vipers, scoring 20 points on 13 shots with seven rebounds. He has a decent shot and is also a decent finisher around the rim, but he's also even skinnier than Looby, and as he's already 28 I wonder how much further his game or body will develop.
Stanley Burrell had his shot going early, though that meant he kept shooting, and he's not consistent enough to warrant taking 14 shots in a game, as he only made five. Squeaky Johnson had a similar shooting night (5-12), though to their credit the two guards combined for only four turnovers. Serge Angounou missed all of his field goals, but watching him during the shootarounds he has a nice, smooth midrange and long-distance shot, somewhat reminiscent of D.J. White's. He just can't seem to get it off consistently when he's being guarded.