FORT WAYNE – After nearly a month’s absence, veteran guard Ron Howard returned to Memorial Coliseum on Thursday. But then, so did the Maine Red Claws.
For the third time in three visits within seven days, Maine again squished the Mad Ants on their home floor, coming back from an 11-point second-quarter deficit to win 113-111.
Altogether, that’s an 0-for-4 performance against Maine (12-17) this season, which came into town Feb. 2 one game behind the Ants but is leaving two games in front, with the Ants (10-19) securely in second-to-last place in the NBA D-League East Conference standings. Only the worst team in the league – Sioux Falls – prevents the Ants from tumbling into the basement.
But the team is low enough as it packed for the overnight bus trip to Canton, Ohio, where it plays tonight.
There was that stretch from about 5 1/2 (minutes left) to about 1:30, those have to be executed, Ants coach Steve Gansey said. I took a timeout and told the guys we have to execute every single play.
There are plays that come up in my mind that are just out of character when we have a three-on-one, we make an extra pass and we don’t get a hoop. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating.
It was midway through the third quarter, with the Mad Ants leading 64-60, when Cam Jones, who scored 24 points, tapped a pass away for a steal.
With Maine’s 6-foot-2 guard Kenny Hayes as the only Maine defender hustling back, Jones, at 6-5, was boring down from the right, 6-foot Travis Walton was in the middle and charging from behind was 7-1 center Mike Tisdale.
Jones passed to Walton, who gave up the layup and passed to Tisdale, whose shot was blocked at the waist by the foot-smaller Hayes.
Then to add insult to in your face, Hayes nailed a jumper at the other end to cut the lead to two.
What could have been a six-point lead was now down to a pair of points.
I saw Tisdale coming in and I was going for the assist, Walton said. I should’ve taken the shot.
Not the reason for the loss, but toss it onto the haystack.
From the 6:21 mark left in the game, when Maine tied the game at 93, to 3:38 remaining, Maine scored on six straight possessions, including two three-pointers, to run the lead to 105-98.
Fort Wayne got within 107-105 on Howard’s high shot off the glass with 36.3 seconds left, but Xavier Silas answered with a killer three with 28 seconds left.
Howard, who had been absent for a month with a fractured thumb, returned to lead the Ants with 27 points.
I’m a little tired, he said. My wind’s not where I want it to be.
The same could be said for his team.