FORT WAYNE – Hold it. Wait just a cotton-pickin’ second. This thing isn’t over?
That’s what they were thinking at Memorial Coliseum, as the ball flew through the air on one of the most masterful inbounds passes you’ll ever see.
It had looked over. Anthony Harris’ long jump shot with 1.7 seconds remaining had the Mad Ants and their fans in a frenzy, thinking a one-point victory in the home opener was secure.
But it wasn’t.
An alley-oop off that inbounds pass from Corey Allmond to Chris Wright snatched the victory from Fort Wayne and gave it to the Maine Red Claws, 92-91, and left the 0-3 Mad Ants bewildered Friday night in front of 3,354 fans.
In those situations, you’re going to switch everything and make them make a jump shot over you, coach Conner Henry said. There was a breakdown in the assignment, and we didn’t switch. One of the high flyers in the league got to the rim and does what he does.
Fort Wayne was led in scoring by Ron Howard’s 27, and Olek Czyz had 14 points and eight rebounds. But after Wright’s beautiful play with 1.2 seconds left, the Mad Ants didn’t get a shot off, and it was over.
We feel like we’ve given two games away in the early season, said Henry, whose team lost the season opener at Texas by one point because of a technical foul for calling a timeout they didn’t have in the final second.
We’re still playing to our opponents. We’re not playing incredibly smart, well-rounded games. There are things to improve on.
It was the Fort Wayne defense that brought it back from a 19-point second-quarter deficit, paced by 15 steals, compared with four for Maine.
By the time Czyz hit a 3-pointer with 2:27 remaining, cutting the Red Claws’ lead to 87-82, it seemed there was only one Maine player who wasn’t fazed – former IPFW star Frank Gaines. The rookie finished with 19 points.
Fort Wayne kept whittling away, forcing a shot-clock violation, taking advantage of missed free throws and pulling to within 89-86 on Trey McKinney-Jones’ layup with 1:02 left.
After a free throw by Abdul Gaddy, Harris pulled Fort Wayne within one on a three-pointer from the corner with 49 seconds left. The Mad Ants forced a turnover, McKinney-Jones drew an offensive foul on Gaines and Fort Wayne followed a flurry of misses – including a Czyz dunk that was blocked by Wright – with the Harris shot from just inside the arc.
It just wasn’t enough in the end, and couldn’t make up for the Mad Ants missing nine of their first 10 shots.
You could see us grow tonight. We didn’t start off very good or shoot the ball very well, Czyz said. We didn’t play defensively as well as we could to begin with. But down the stretch, we started to play with energy and to get stops. We started to execute and make plays on the offensive end. We started to come together. Just seeing that, it’s a spark for us and something to look forward to. We can see that potential down the road and won’t hang our heads down.
Harris had 13 points. Will Frisby had 10, and Sadiel Rojas had nine and 10 rebounds.
Maine’s Romero Osby and Wright had 19 points, and Chris Babb added 18.