The ceiling has been set so high by the Mad Ants’ early season play that they were disgusted Thursday after losing 124-121 in overtime to the Maine Red Claws in front of 1,802 fans at the Coliseum. It was just their second loss of the season.
The Mad Ants (7-2) are still at a pace equal to that of last season’s Sioux Falls Skyforce, who set a D-League record by finishing 40-10 and then winning the playoff championship. But this loss still stings, considering the Mad Ants had been unbeaten at Memorial Coliseum, held a 16-point lead in the third quarter and, for the first time, had the services of the Indiana Pacers rookie Georges Niang.
Niang, a forward taken in the second round out of Iowa State, had 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting in 21 minutes.
"It feels good to get out there and get a feel," said Niang, had averaged only 5.5 minutes over 13 games with the Pacers and is expected to still be with the Mad Ants when they play host to the Texas Legends at 7 p.m. Saturday on Star Wars Night.
"Obviously, it’s frustrating when you can’t help your team win down here. There were some bonehead mistakes on my part that I have to get better at while I’m down here. But credit to my teammates, they pushed me along in my first real game out here. I’m thankful that I have teammates like I do here to help me get through this."
Travis Leslie had 22 points for Fort Wayne. Rookie Jordan Loyd had 20. And rookie Alex Poythress had 18 points and nine rebounds before fouling out on a charge with 10:35 left in the fourth quarter, when the Mad Ants led 99-89.
"He’s a big key to our team, rebounding and finishing at the rim," Leslie said. "With him fouling out, yeah, that definitely hurt us a little bit. But we had other guys who stepped up. We just came up short."
Maine (8-3) was led by Jalen Jones’ 29 points and 11 rebounds. Marcus Georges-Hunt had 28 points.
Georges-Hunt’s layup with 41 seconds left in regulation tied it at 112. With 31 seconds left, Mad Ants rookie E. Victor Nickerson answered with a pair of free throws, but his foul at the other end gave Georges-Hunt a couple of free throws to tie it. After Fort Wayne’s Julyan Stone, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists, failed to score on a drive with 3 seconds left that didn’t draw a foul, Jones missed a shot at the other end.
The Red Claws took a 121-114 lead with 1:35 remaining in overtime, after a Jones layup, a Damion Lee baseline drive and an Arthur Edwards 3-pointer. Fort Wayne made 2 of 7 shots in OT and fell to 4-1 at the Coliseum.
Niang is the second NBA-contracted player to suit up for Fort Wayne this season – Rakeem Christmas, currently with the Pacers, played three games – and Niang earned good reviews from coach Steve Gansey.
"I’d have liked to get him in a little bit more, but based on what Maine did in spreading us out (it was tough). I thought he had a lot of good shots but they just didn’t fall," Gansey said.
"The guys love playing with him and he loves playing with the guys. It’s just a matter of him continuing to get associated with our offense and our defense and just trying to get better.