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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, April 01, 2017 11:30 pm

What was Ants' coach thinking? Ahead.

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Mad Ants wanted to make it clear that they did want to win tonight. There wasn’t some nefarious plan to lose and get a match-up with Raptors 905 instead of Maine.

It’s just that the Mad Ants really didn’t want anyone, like Tyler Hansbrough, to get injured tonight against the Canton Charge.

So they didn’t play Hansbrough, who is arguably the best player in the D-League right now, or Travis Leslie, Jordan Loyd or Stephan Hicks.

Here’s the context: In 2015, Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey was an assistant with the Charge and they were going hard for a franchise record for victories when they could have been resting people, Brandon Paul tore up his shoulder, the Charge didn’t get the record and it lost in the second round to the Mad Ants.

Gansey didn’t want something like that to happen again, even if it meant a match-up with the league’s top team (Fort Wayne is 2-2 against Raptors 905 anyway) instead of Maine (1-3).

And the chemistry issue was sort of moot, anyway, with Alex Poythress signed by the Philadelphia 76ers today, Georges Niang back down with Fort Wayne and Jarrod Uthoff not coming back.

“Tonight was important, OK? But the fact that we made the playoffs before the game, I wanted our horses to be fresh and to be ready for Tuesday’s game,” Gansey said. “I didn’t want a situation like (what happened with Paul). If I can control the situation, I want to control it and those guys can’t get hurt if they’re not playing the game.”

Now, I can tell you for most of the game I was befuddled. I’ve been the beat writer for seven teams that have won championships and, in my experience, resting players doesn’t work. The fans tonight also seemed unsure; I’ve never had so many come up to me during a game and ask what was going on.

But hindsight being 20/20, it looks brilliant.

They got the rest, they got a magnificent victory and they do get to play Maine in a series that starts at the Coliseum on Tuesday night.

Not only did Niang get some needed time in the spotlight, after sitting on the Indiana Pacers’ bench, and total 32 points and 16 rebounds (video highlights above), but we got to see what players such as Adam Woodbury (11 points, 17 rebounds) and Chris Fowler (seven points, terrific defense) can do if needed in the postseason.

Most importantly, the Mad Ants love getting to see the guys who work their tails off in practice get a chance to shine. There was a definite buzz after the game.

And it should be noted that the Charge, which could be seen again in the postseason (though I don’t think so), wasn’t resting its guys. So this game gives the Mad Ants a boost and demoralizes another playoff team.

That’s a win/win.

By the way, Niang is expected to remain with the Mad Ants for the playoffs, unless there's an injury with the Pacers.