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The Journal Gazette

  • Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette
    Mad Ants forwards Stephan Hicks, middle left, and Tyler Hansbrough, middle right, tip the ball in Saturday at Memorial Coliseum as Roscoe Smith, far left and Terrence Jennings look on for the Delaware 87ers.

  • Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette
    Mad Ants guard Trey McKinney Jones makes a no-look pass at Memorial Coliseum as the Delaware 87ers' Aaron Harrison, left and Carlos Lopez look on at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

  • Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette
    Mad Ants guard Trey McKinney Jones uses a pick from teammate Alex Poythress, back, to get past the Delaware 87ers' Aaron Harrison, left, at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.
March 18, 2017 9:32 PM

Hansbrough big, Mad Ants help playoff position

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Not only did the Mad Ants get some needed breathing room on the Delaware 87ers – they beat Delaware 116-109 today at Memorial Coliseum – but it kept Fort Wayne well within striking distance of the Canton Charge for the third of four seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Mad Ants (26-18), who play host to the Austin Spurs on Sunday, have six games remaining in the regular season and are only two games back of Canton.

Fort Wayne now has a three-game lead on Delaware (23-21), which has lost four of its last five games.

Tyler Hansbrough had 31 points, the most of his eight games with the Mad Ants, who led almost the entire way and won for the third time in their last four.

The key play came with 1:26 remaining in the game, when Hansbrough got his own rebound, made a basket and drew a foul for a 107-102 lead, just after the officials used video replay to overturn a possession call and give the ball to Fort Wayne. Hansbrough, a seven-year NBA veteran, had been the player who sent the ball off a Delaware player and out of bounds.

Alex Poythress’ jump shot from the top of the key was also big, giving Fort Wayne a 111-107 lead with 35 seconds left.

Dunks on back-to-back possessions by Poythress, a rookie all-star, put the Mad Ants up 10-4. A 3-point play by Jordan Loyd, who got fouled at the top of the key and made it 13-9, was atonement for the rookie guard who had turned the ball over for a basket at the other end. And by the time Loyd drained a 3-pointer with 2:55 remaining in the first quarter, the lead was up to 24-15.

The lead grew to as many as 12 points but the 87ers fought back and Nate Robinson’s jump shot with 4:15 left in the second quarter cut the lead to 48-46. Robinson, the only man to win three NBA dunk contests, passed up opportunities to dunk three times before that basket.

Larry Bird, president of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, who own and operate the Mad Ants, was in attendance for the second time this season. He was a big reason why Hansbrough, a former Pacers player, signed with Fort Wayne on March 1 and Hansbrough put on an early show with a game-best 16 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, as Fort Wayne built a 64-57 lead.

With the 87ers threatening to tie it throughout the third quarter, Poythress’ back-to-back lay-up and 3-pointer gave Fort Wayne some breathing room with an 82-75 lead with 3:24 left. After Travis Leslie blocked a Robinson lay-up attempt, Trey McKinney Jones hit a 3-pointer from the corner for an 85-80 lead with 1:24 left in the third quarter.

The 87ers got their first lead of the game with 9:29 remaining in the fourth, when Robinson’s leaning shot from 12 feet out caromed off the glass and in for an 88-87 advantage. It didn’t last long; Poythress muscled his way past Roscoe Smith for a hook shot and a 96-88 lead with 6:52. That was followed by the play of the game, as McKinney Jones, falling out of bounds, sent a pass backward and over his head to Leslie, who fed Hansbrough for a lay-up.

Notes: After missing nine games because of a call-up to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and a back injury, rookie Ben Bentil was back in the Fort Wayne lineup and played only 4:26. … Jarrod Uthoff, who replaced Bentil with the Mavericks, is expected to sign a second 10-day contract, according to multiple media reports, so it’s unknown when or if he’ll rejoin the Mad Ants.