SANTA CRUZ — With the Santa Cruz Warriors down 108-102 with just 10 seconds left in the game, they were forced to watch Glenn Rice Jr. finish off a 3-point play at the line. The game was over, and the Warriors were going to be in a do-or-die scenario from here on out.
As Rice Jr. stepped up to the line the fans at Kaiser Permanente began chanting “TWO IN TEXAS!” The faithful Warrior fans, like the players, knew that the series had just begun.
Rice finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds and the visiting Vipers handed the Warriors their first loss of the playoffs in a 112-102 thriller in front of a sold-out Santa Cruz crowd on Thursday night.
“They know that this isn’t over,” said Warriors coach Nate Bjorkgren. “We want to get on that plane and get to RGV and play hard.”
The Warriors, like the Vipers, were unbeaten in the post-season coming into Thursday night’s game.
The deciding moment of the game was when Jeremy Tyler received his fifth personal foul early in the fourth quarter that forced him to sit out for the majority of the period.
After Tyler sat down, the Vipers continued their 14-3 run to open the fourth quarter.
It also didn’t help that the Warriors had three technical fouls called on them in the quarter. The Vipers shot 22 free throws in the final period.
“Our guys were competing,” said Bjorkgren. “It was a physical game. There were some hard fouls, and were coming to continue to compete that hard in game two.”
Despite the Vipers shooting many foul shots and Tyler being in foul trouble, the Warriors still managed to make a run late in the game.
With the Sea Dubs down just six points with 2:54 remaining, Stefhon Hannah found a cutting Hilton Armstrong. Armstrong finished at the rim and earned a three-point opportunity. He couldn’t finish the play, but on the rebound Toure Murry stepped out of bounds and the Warriors gained possession.
Just before the Armstrong bucket, Tyler had checked into the game and he was ready to cause some damage.
Tyler set up on the right side and worked against Tim Ohlbrecht. He rose over the Viper big-man to drain a jumper to cut the lead to just two points.
Then Hannah showed why he is the reigning two-time D-League Defensive Player of the Year by stealing the ball away from Rice Jr.
Hannah lead the fast break and went up for the layup that was contested and swatted away by Rice Jr., but Travis Leslie was there for his fourth offensive rebound of the game. Leslie dished off to Tyler and he dropped it in for the game-tying bucket that made the Santa Cruz crowd go berserk.
“I liked the run that we went on,” said Bjorkgren. “We had a couple chances there, but they got stops when they needed them and played a good game.”
On the next Viper possession D.J. Kennedy took Leslie to the rim and finished to give the Vipers a two-point lead with 47.8 seconds left to play.
The Warriors then took a timeout and drew up a play for Leslie.
Leslie came off a screen and was able to get by his man, split the defense and get a beautiful up-and-under layup on the rim. The ball hit every part of the rim, but slid out. Leslie tried with all his might to tip in the shot, and despite having two chances the ball bounced off the cylinder and Rice Jr. was there for his 10th rebound that gave him his double-double.
“That was a big one,” said Bjorkgren. “That could’ve changed the game. We score that and then we go down and try and get a stop you never know what could happen.”
Leslie finished with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists. Scott Machado had 16 points and shot 4-6 from 3-point land. Hannah was solid for the Warriors dropping in 12 points, dishing out five assists and also having five steals.
Murry scored 17 points for the Vipers and grabbed 10 rebounds. Former Santa Cruz Warriors, Chris Daniels also had a double-double, with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The Warriors will now have to win two games in Hidalgo, Texas. The Warriors played once in the State Farm Arena during the regular season and they came away with a 114-104 win.
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