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Ant making most of chance

– Mad Ants rookie forward Tony Mitchell didn’t have to wait for teammate Ron Howard to get hurt to go on a hefty scoring run. He was already on it.

But with Howard out of the lineup with a slight fracture to his right wrist suffered March 21, Mitchell has ratcheted his game even more, going from good to goodness gracious.

In last week’s loss to Rio Grande Valley, Mitchell scored 37 points.

Two days earlier, in a 106-104 triple-overtime victory over Austin, he had a career-high 47.

The NBA D-League figured the two performances warranted Mitchell to be named co-performer of the week, along with Rio Grande Valley guard Andrew Goudelock, who dropped 41 on the Ants.

“I just know when Ron went down, somebody had to step up,” Mitchell said.

It was also a crucial time to step up.

The Ants (23-22) are in the thick of a chase to secure the eighth and final D-League playoff berth. They visit Iowa (11-35) tonight, then return home for their final two regular season games at Memorial Coliseum, where they will play Reno (15-29) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and Texas (19-27) at 5 p.m. Sunday. The Ants will close out the regular season April 5 and 6 at Sioux Falls and Tulsa.

“They were disappointed (in the Rio Grande Valley loss), which is great,” Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “I think the players felt they played OK, and we thought we had a chance to win. The next day we had a good day of practice, and I think everybody’s refocused what our long-term goal is here.”

With Howard, the team’s second-leading scorer with a 19.1 average, out indefinitely, Ticknor said he’s been impressed with Mitchell’s recent performances.

“With Luke (Harangody) and Ron out, he had to step up,” Ticknor said of Mitchell. “He’s definitely taken a lot of shots, but he needed to. For a rookie to take over a scoring load like he’s done over the last couple of weeks is pretty unusual, and he’s responded pretty well. That’s a tough position to put a young guy in.

“I think the double-overtime win over Springfield a month ago was kind of a turning point for him, when he scored all nine of our points in the second overtime. Since then, he’s been on a tear.”

Since he scored eight points in a loss at Erie on Jan. 27, Mitchell has scored 19 or more points in 19 straight games.

stwarden@jg.net

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