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  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
    Christian Watford, of the Mad Ants, drives the ball in closer to the basket with Raptors' Yanick Moreira keeping close in the second quarter of Friday's game at Memorial Coliseum.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
    Stephan Hicks, of the Mad Ants, goes up for two in the second quarter of Friday's game at Memorial Coliseum against Raptors 905.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
    Mad Ants' Nick Zeisloft makes a run with the ball in the second quarter of Friday's game at Memorial Coliseum against Raptors 905.
January 06, 2017 11:18 PM

Mad Ants must adapt to refereeing

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

While there were those at Memorial Coliseum who thought it was the worst officiated D-League game they’d seen in years, it’s too easy to blame the 114-100 loss tonight to Raptors 905 on referees John Sterling, Kevin Fahy and Brandon Parker.

Although, I will note that a refresher course on traveling would be helpful. I just don't know what gets that call anymore.

The Mad Ants were in foul trouble all night – it can’t all be blamed on the officials – and that allowed Raptors 905 to go to the free throw line 43 times for 30 points. The Mad Ants, who got 31 of the 52 fouls called, were 17 of 21 from the free-throw line.

As Fort Wayne’s grip on the Central Division lead fell to a half game on Raptors 905, what really transpired was a lack of focus. Maybe a better way to put it was the lack of realization that this would be a night when the calls wouldn’t go their way and the Mad Ants had to adapt.

“These guys do a great job of welcoming me in and making life really easy,” said Georges Niang, who will report back to the Indiana Pacers tonight after having 23 points and 12 rebounds in his fourth D-League game.

“The frustrating part is not winning. We were in a position to win, regardless of how (badly) the game was called. We still had a chance to win it and we could never get that focus off what was going on outside of the game. We needed to just focus on the game and just focus on us. That eats you up as a player because it’s something you can control.”

(Video highlights of Niang are above.)

What coach Steve Gansey, who got a technical foul tonight for arguing a call, pointed out was that the Mad Ants have a habit of getting progressively worse as games go on. In other words, if they build a lead, as they did tonight at 13 points in the first half, they let it slip away. So even if they are able to make a comeback, as they did tonight coming back from 19 down in the fourth quarter to six-point deficit, they’ve already cost themselves the game.

While Raptors 905 caused some match-up problems for Fort Wayne because of its height (rebounds were 56-45) and that was worsened with Alex Poythress in foul trouble all night, the Mad Ants seem a more talented team. Trey McKinney Jones had 28 points for Fort Wayne. But the shooting was abysmal, as Fort Wayne shot 35.4 percent to the opposition’s 46.8.

Fort Wayne had to take 42 shots from 3-point range just to stay in it. That’s too much, even for Fort Wayne, which aims to shoot about 30 per game.

We have to remember, this is a developmental league and that holds true for the officials. If you are waiting for a wonderfully officiated game, you could be waiting weeks. So you have to be able to manage the situation and, tonight, the Mad Ants didn’t do that.

“We fouled way too much because they shot 43 free throws. So, we’ve got to defend without fouling,” Gansey said.

Now, Fort Wayne’s mettle will really be tested. It plays eight straight games on the road before the Feb. 2 game at the Coliseum against the Erie BayHawks.

By then, we should know if Fort Wayne is still the favorite in the division or if Raptors 905 has overtaken it.

jcohn@jg.net