There was a time when making the playoffs was aspiration much more than expectation for the Mad Ants, but that was before they won a championship. Once that happens, really, no change in league names, players or ownership is going to alter what the fans want – at least a trip to the postseason.
And the Mad Ants are headed back to there, a 121-107 victory tonight over the Wisconsin Herd at Memorial Coliseum having guaranteed it.
DeQuan Jones led the Mad Ants with 42 points, the fourth most by a player in team history. Tony Mitchell scored 49 and 47 in 2012-13 and Earl Calloway had 44 in 2007-08.
The Mad Ants (28-20) still have two games remaining in the regular season to wrap up the Central Division title – one more victory or a loss by the Grand Rapids Drive would cinch that – and they could even get a bye through the single-elimination first round of the playoffs.
The Mad Ants, who began play in 2007, didn’t make the playoffs during their first five seasons. They’ve qualified in five of six seasons since, winning the 2014 championship, losing in the 2015 finals, and missing the postseason in 2015-16 – their first season of being owned and operated by the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.
Last season, the Mad Ants lost in the first round to Maine. If they win their remaining regular-season games, the Mad Ants would equal the 30-game win total from last season.
Walt Lemon Jr. added 20 for the Mad Ants. Jarrod Uthoff had 15 points and 10 rebounds for his team-leading 10th double-double.
For Wisconsin (21-27), which was out of the playoff picture, Xavier Munford had 31 points. Former Bishop Luers and Indiana University star James Blackmon Jr. had 17 points for the Herd.
The Mad Ants led by as many as nine points in the first quarter, thanks to Lemon’s jump shot for a 24-15 lead, but it was tied at 36 at the end of the quarter.
Wisconsin’s Munford had the highlight of the second quarter, leaping to catch a pass and shooting it before he came down, all so he could beat the shot clock, and he converted his shot which was from just inside the 3-point line for a 46-45 lead with 7:35 remaining. But a close second, as far as great plays go, was Jamil Wilson’s rebound and thunderous dunk off an errant Stephan Hicks 3-pointer from the corner.
Despite 20 points from Jones, and 56.1-percent shooting as a team, the Mad Ants trailed 69-61 at halftime. To blame were Fort Wayne’s nine first-half turnovers – five more than the Herd – including seven by the Mad Ants in the second quarter.
The Mad Ants regained the lead by opening the quarter with a 10-0 run that culminated with Lemon intercepting a wild pass by Blackmon from underneath the Fort Wayne basket and cruising down the court for a layup. Another booming dunk by Wilson, with 6:30 left in the quarter, put Fort Wayne up 75-71.
Jones’ 3 pointer with 1:25 left in the third quarter gave Fort Wayne a commanding 94-79 lead.