Rio Grande hands Maine Red Claws tough loss

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Former Maine Red Claws player R.J. Hunter, now with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, drives to the hoop in the fourth quarter against the Red Claws. Hunter lit up his former teammates with 40 points in a 118-110 victory at the Portland Expo in Portland. (Rich Obrey/NBAE via Getty Images)

PORTLAND — Former Maine Red Claw RJ Hunter returned to Portland to face his former squad Saturday, and he felt right at home.

Seven 3-pointers and 40 points later, Hunter and the Vipers defeated the Red Claws for their 10th straight win, 118-110.

This, despite a record performance from Andrew White and Maine. White hit nine treys of his own and the Red Claws hoisted a franchise-record 56 attempts from beyond the arc.

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“(White) got me going,” Hunter said. “I was like, ‘Dang, he’s making a lot of shots, making it look easy.’ I was just motivated to make more shots.”

Hunter, a 40 percent 3-point shooter on the year in the G League, drilled one of his seven at the third quarter buzzer to bring the Vipers within one point in a game during which Maine led most of the time.

After the break, Hunter picked up where he left off and hit his seventh 3 to give Rio Grande its first lead since early in the first.

Hunter was excited to be back.

“Not to state the obvious, but it was cool to be back,” Hunter said. “I was just locked in and wasn’t worried about anything else. I think (White) played with a chip tonight, too.”

Maine head coach Brandon Bailey offered no comment on Hunter after the game.

A few possessions after lifting the visitors into the lead, Hunter scored on a fast-break dunk on which he was fouled. The forward made the free throw to put Rio Grande up by five before heading to the bench. Guard Monte Morris scored a couple of buckets to extend the Vipers’ lead before White started to get going again.

White hit his ninth 3-pointer of the game after a pair of free throws to pull Maine back within seven, but it was too little, too late. The Red Claws started to miss shots that were falling earlier, and Rio Grande took advantage.

“It’s exactly what happens to us every single time,” Bailey said. “We’re not going be as good as we can be or as we want to be if we don’t stay focused and lock in for a full 48 minutes. We move the ball and share the ball and good things happen for us… Once our offense gets a little stagnant we stop moving the ball and getting good shots.”

In the first quarter, Maine came out red-hot — especially White, who hit his first six shots, all 3s.

“I’ve had a handful of starts like that in my basketball career but I always try to be efficient and play the game the right way,” White said. “When my teammates give me open looks I’m going to knock them down and they have faith in me.”

Maine was distributing the ball well in the first quarter and White’s 16 points were enough to earn a seven point lead.

Hunter heated up in the second, scoring 11 points, but Maine held a ten point halftime lead.

In the third, Hunter locked in. A couple minutes into the second half, Rio Grande found itself in a 13 point hole. The former Red Claw scored seven during a 13-2 run, scoring from three, from in close and the charity stripe.

“That, like that, I haven’t been like that since college,” Hunter said.”

White hit two 3s in the third, finishing with 38, and Jabari Bird added seven points, but Maine’s attack couldn’t stave off Rio Grande, who handed Maine its 16th loss in 17 matchups between the teams all-time.

Devin Williams (41) of the Maine Red Claws looks to pass against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Saturday at the Portland Expo. (Rich Obrey/NBAE via Getty Images)

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