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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 31, 2017 9:50 pm

A lot at stake in Mad Ants finale

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Mad Ants have spent the last few weeks worrying about themselves, not what was happening in games around the league.

The focus has been winning and getting primed for the postseason.

"I feel like everybody on the team understands that every time we step on the court, we're trying to get a win. And we're going to give it our all when we're out there," said rookie all-star Alex Poythress, stressing the importance of gaining momentum for the playoffs.

The Mad Ants play the regular-season finale at 7 p.m. today against the Canton Charge. Whether the Mad Ants know it or not, the game at Memorial Coliseum has great importance beyond just momentum.

The winner will get the third of four seeds for the Eastern Conference playoffs and a theoretically easier opponent -- the Atlantic Division-champion Maine Red Claws instead of league-leading Raptors 905.

Regardless of opponent, the Mad Ants will open their best-of-3 playoff series at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Coliseum with the next two games, if two are necessary, on the road.

The finale was set up by Canton's 94-83 loss Friday to Grand Rapids, which got 15 points and 12 rebounds from former Mad Ant Ramon Harris. The Mad Ants (29-20) needed that outcome because Canton (29-20) holds the tiebreaker over Fort Wayne with a 3-0 head-to-head record.

Meanwhile, Maine finally locked up the second seed despite losing its fourth straight, to Greensboro, because of Delaware's loss to Raptors 905.

The Indiana Pacers helped solidify the Fort Wayne roster by sending Georges Niang back to Fort Wayne on Friday.

Niang, a rookie, has played five games this season with Fort Wayne and averaged 16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3 assists. With the Pacers, he's played 23 games but averaged only four minutes per game.

He is the only NBA-contracted player on the roster of the Mad Ants, who have qualified for the playoffs four times in five years, though Ben Bentil played this season for the Mavericks. The Mad Ants, who are going to the postseason for the first time since the Pacers bought them in 2015, have several players with NBA experience, including Tyler Hansbrough, Travis Leslie and Marquis Teague, but they also have seven rookies.

The Mad Ants have been dogged by inconsistency, namely a penchant for squandering leads, and today marks the last chance for them to shirk that habit before the playoffs.

"It's happened to us way too many times during the regular season, so I feel like we'll be ready for that," said Trey McKinney Jones, who was part of the Mad Ants team that won the 2014 D-League championship and reached the 2015 finals.

The Mad Ants, who have won three of their last four games, haven't played since Tuesday's 116-100 victory at Long Island in which Hansbrough had 34 points and 14 rebounds.