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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Christian Watford of the Mad Ants drives on Marshall Plumlee of Westchester, 2nd quarter, Friday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Courtney Fells of Westchester shoots over Stephan Hicks of the Mad Ants, 1st quarter, Friday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Trey McKinney Jones of the Mad Ants tries a scoop shot under Keith Wright of Westchester, 2nd quarter, Friday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Alex Poythress of the Mad Ants is clipped on the arm by Keith Wright of Westchester, 2nd quarter, Friday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Stephan Hicks of the Mad Ants tries a shot over Damien Inglis of Westchester, 3rd quarter, Friday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Alex Poythress of the Mad Ants looks for shooting room under Keith Wright of Westchester, 3rd quarter, Friday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Stephan Hicks of the Mad Ants drives the lane by Marshall Plumlee of Westchester, 1st quarter, Friday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Trey McKinney Jones of the Mad Ants drives the lane against Westchester, 1st quarter, Friday.

Friday, December 30, 2016 7:10 pm

Close but no victory for Mad Ants

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

The Mad Ants came into tonight with the best home record among the Eastern Conference’s 11 teams and even had their leader and point guard, Julyan Stone, back on the court after a two-game absence because of a concussion.

But the Westchester Knicks, who had lost their previous two games, bested the Mad Ants 94-92 in front of 3,421 spectators at Memorial Coliseum.

The finish was wild.

The Mad Ants needed a 3-pointer to tie it with 10 seconds left and Travis Leslie’s shot from the corner was blocked by Von Wafer. The Knicks’ Jordon Crawford then missed two free throws but the ball rolled off two Fort Wayne players and out of bounds.

Down 94-89, Trey McKinney Jones hit a 3-pointer for Fort Wayne and was fouled. After his intentional miss on the ensuing free throw, Alex Poythress pulled down the rebound and his put-back rolled just out.

The Mad Ants, 12-5 overall, dropped to 8-3 at the Coliseum. Westchester is 10-7, 6-4 on the road.

Poythress and McKinney Jones both had 20 points for the Mad Ants. Stephan Hicks added 16.

Von Wafer led Westchester with 18.

After trailing by six points early, Hicks’ two put-backs in the final minute of the first quarter gave Fort Wayne a 21-17 lead. A pass from the right sideline by rookie Jordan Loyd set up McKinney Jones for a basket and foul as he was falling through the lane for a 29-25 lead.

But the Knicks, who hadn’t faced Fort Wayne yet this season, rallied to take a 47-43 halftime lead on a Damien Inglis jump shot and, because he was fouled by Hicks, an ensuing free throw with 7.2 seconds left.

The Knicks made 52.4 percent of their first-half shots while the Mad Ants converted 39.1 percent.

Back and forth the game continued going. A Poythress 3-pointer from the corner putting the Mad Ants up 50-49 with 8:40 left in the third quarter. It didn’t last, though, as Leslie missed three attempts to score under the basket to set up Crawford at the other end for a lay-up and a 58-55 lead with 4:55 left.

Westchester’s Jaylen Bond drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 7:30 left in the fourth for a 78-67 lead.

Every time the Mad Ants seemed poised to make a run, like when Hicks made a 3-pointer with 4:45 left, the Knicks seemed to answer, as Plumlee did for an 83-73 lead with 4:27 left.

But McKinney Jones’ defense on Baker forced a shot-clock violation to set up Hicks for a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left, cutting the Westchester lead to four at 91-87.

The Mad Ants play host to the Windy City Bulls at 7 p.m. Tuesday and then complete their four-game home stand Jan. 6 against Raptors 905.

Westchester’s Courtney Fells suffered an injury in the first half when he was elbowed in the head and didn’t return, scoring only two points.

Notes: There were two players with Northeast Indiana ties, both of them rookies, on the court. The father of Mad Ants guard Nick Zeisloft, a former Indiana University player, went to DeKalb. Westchester center Marshall Plumlee was born in Warsaw. Plumlee, who is under contact to the NBA’s New York Knicks, was in the ROTC at Duke and was sworn into the Army last year; he plans to go into active service after his playing career. ... 

Westchester had another NBA-contacted player, Ron Baker, while no Indiana Pacers players are currently with Fort Wayne. ...

The Mad Ants wore special jerseys inspired by the TV show "Saved by the Bell" for 90s night – actor Dennis Haskins, who played Mr. Belding, was there to sign autographs and take pictures – and the jerseys were auctioned off to benefit the Mad Anthonys’ Children’s Hope House, which is on the Lutheran Hospital campus and provides housing for the families of critically ill children. The Mad Ants raised $1,550 and Poythress’ jersey sold for the most at $225.

jcohn@jg.net