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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Alex Poythress of the Mad Ants lands on Alfonso McKinnie of Windy City for a defensive foul, 2nd quarter, Tuesday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Mad Ants head coach Steve Gansey sketches out a play against Windy City, 1st quarter, Tuesday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Trey McKinney-Jones, left, and Stephan Hicks of the Mad Ants sandwich Wesley Saunders of Windy City, 1st quarter, Tuesday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Alex Poythress of the Mad Ants fouls Aaron Thomas of Windy City, 1st quarter, Tuesday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Anthony Walker of the Mad Ants gets a dunk off of a rebound against Windy City, 2nd quarter, Tuesday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Stephan Hicks of the Mad Ants hits an open shot over Alfonso McKinnie of Windy City, 2nd quarter, Tuesday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Fort Wayne’s Trey McKinney-Jones is fouled on his drive by Thomas Walkup on Tuesday at Memorial Coliseum.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Travis Leslie of the Mad Ants scores over JJ Avila of Windy City, 1st quarter, Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017 8:12 pm

Mad Ants have championship potential

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

Trey McKinney Jones is the only player on the Mad Ants’ roster that was here for the 2014 D-League championship or the trip to the 2015 finals.

With a 13-5 start, it’s safe to say not only do the Mad Ants have aspirations of winning the championship but that they’re one of the early favorites.

“I said it coming out of training camp: ‘This team is real deep,’” McKinney Jones said tonight. “When we won the championship, I didn’t think that team was as deep as this team. So I was excited coming out of training camp. It’s still the same.”

McKinney Jones and rookie Jordan Loyd had 22 points apiece as the Mad Ants defeated the Windy City Bulls 122-115 at Memorial Coliseum, in front of a crowd tonight announced as 1,896.

It’s not just that the Mad Ants have high-end talent with Alex Poythress, Julyan Stone and Travis Leslie, defensive standouts such as McKinney Jones and Stephan Hicks, the potential to get players such as Georges Niang and Rakeem Christmas from the parent Indiana Pacers, and so many promising rookies such as Loyd, Nick Zeisloft and E. Victor Nickerson.

It’s the depth.

We’ve gotten a look recently at players at the end of the bench, such as Nickerson, rookie Adam Woodbury and Anthony Walker. If those guys can play – and the veterans say that they can – then the Mad Ants could be a force.

Walker came into tonight having played only 129 minutes last season and only 6 this season, then put up 11 quality minutes. He may have only totaled two points on a key dunk, two rebounds and a shot block, but the Mad Ants outscored the Bulls (6-11) by 10 points with Walker on the floor. The only player in the game with a better plus/minus rating was Stone at plus-12, and he had eight points and 13 assists to make that happen.

“These guys bust their butts every single day in practice. Whatever we need them to do, they do it,” Gansey said of the players at the end of the bench.

And when Walker and players like him get into the game, the starters enjoy it as much as anyone.

The biggest things the Mad Ants will have to prove during a key stretch that starts Friday at the Coliseum against Raptors 905, which is one game back of Fort Wayne for first place in the Central Division, is that they can a) have a reliable inside game with a somewhat undersized roster and b) play with more of a killer instinct.

Tonight, the Mad Ants led by 22 points in the fourth quarter but let it get down to six with 26 seconds left in the game.

“We just didn’t finish the game right. We kind of let our foot up off the pedal,” McKinney Jones said. “Coming off a loss (to Westchester), we were really beating each other up the last two days in practice. But we made some mistakes that we know we can fix. The ball started sticking. We got stagnant. They got easy buckets. These things are fixable but it has to come from us as the players. The coaches are telling us and putting us in the best positions to win, but we’ve got to figure it out as we go.”

jcohn@jg.net