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Ants happy with road trip

– The last time the Mad Ants played a home game, Christmas lights – even some trees – were still up.

On Jan. 5, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o still had a secret, and Beyoncé actually sang, but not at NHL games.

Much has happened in the 26 days since the Ants pummeled Santa Cruz 118-90 at Memorial Coliseum. That was the night Fort Wayne tied a franchise record with its fourth consecutive victory – a streak it would extend to eight before losing 13 nights later in Bakersfield, Calif.

Finally, the Ants (12-14) return to the Coliseum today to face Maine (17-10), the co-leader in the NBA D-League’s East Division.

“I thought we had a good road trip, being 5-4,” Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “Being away from home, (5-4) was good. If we could have gotten one more win, it would have been great. We’re still satisfied with it. We weren’t satisfied with the way it ended.”

Playing without second-leading scorer and point guard Ron Howard, who suffered a strained knee three minutes into the Jan. 18 game, the Ants lost at Bakersfield. Counting that loss, they dropped four of the last five.

While the absence of Howard, who is listed as day-to-day, contributed to the stumble, Ticknor said road weariness also was a factor.

On Jan. 9 and 10 at the D-League Showcase event in Reno, Nev., the Ants played back-to-back games. From there, they flew to Erie, Pa., for a game. Then it was back to the West Coast, where they played three games in four nights in the Los Angeles area. On Jan. 21, the Ants played at Canton, Ohio, and finished up with two games back in Erie.

“It wears on you,” Ticknor said.

It wore on Anthony Richardson, the team’s 6-foot-7 forward.

“It’s the travel,” Richardson said. “There are always early flights in the morning, then the drawn-out days. As you can imagine, you’ve got 6-8, 6-6, 6-9, 6-10 guys on a plane. It’s always tough.”

Richardson admitted there is a sense of relief knowing that the longest road trip of the season is behind them. But there is still much of the second half left.

“Every game is important because we’re trying to fight for a playoff spot now,” he said. “(The road trip is) behind us. We were 5-4, but it didn’t end quite like we wanted it to. Now it’s on to the next game.”

Note: Miles Plumlee of the Indiana Pacers is expected to play tonight for the Ants. Plumlee, the 6-11 former Duke standout, has averaged 12.8 points and 11.2 rebounds in 11 games with the Mad Ants.

stwarden@jg.net

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