Coach Steve Gansey hasn’t had to talk often about an inability to win, not as the Mad Ants have started the season with a 13-5 record. More frequently, he’s bemoaned how they’ve won. That’s an enviable position for a coach.
Such was the case Tuesday, when Trey McKinney Jones and rookie Jordan Loyd each totaled 22 points to pace Fort Wayne’s 122-115 victory over the Windy City Bulls in front of an announced crowd of 1,896 at Memorial Coliseum.
A lead that had been up to 22 points in the fourth quarter was trimmed to just six when Windy City’s Andre Dawkins made a lay-up with 26 seconds left. Rookie Nick Zeisloft had the only remaining point – a free throw – to cement the victory for Fort Wayne (13-5) as it took a one-game lead over Friday’s opponent, Raptors 905, for first place in the Central Division.
The Mad Ants could be proud of much that happened. They responded to arguably their worst game of the season – an unenergetic 94-92 loss to Westchester – by playing at a frenetic pace and scoring the second-most points of their season. Christian Watford produced a season-best 17 points and seven rebounds in his first start. And second-year center Anthony Walker was on the court for 11 minutes with two points on a key dunk, two rebounds and a shot block, after he had played only six minutes this season and 129 all of last season.
Hence the touch of disappointment for Gansey, who hoped to parlay the big lead into playing time for players at the end of the bench.
“These guys bust their butts every single day in practice. Whatever we need them to do, they do it,” Gansey said. “It’s just when we’re up 22 points, we need to be keeping that lead and finishing teams off, not giving them any life, any hope, anything down the end. I wanted to give Anthony another five minutes. I wanted to put E. Victor Nickerson in. That’s why I’m a little upset. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do so we could get our teammates in.”
The Mad Ants got 15 points from Zeisloft and rookie Alex Poythress. Julyan Stone totaled eight points, 13 assists and eight rebounds, highlighted by a third-quarter sequence in which he sent a baseline pass to Travis Leslie for a 12-foot jump shot and then drained a 3-pointer for a 85-64 lead. Fort Wayne was 13 of 36 from 3-point range with Watford 4 of 8 and Zeisloft 3 of 6.
“We were just a little bit more focused than Friday,” Walker said.
Windy City (6-11) was led by Will Bynum’s 22 points.
“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, 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.”