Sixty-seven years to the day after the NBA held its All-Star Game at Memorial Coliseum, we saw at the same venue just how different professional basketball has become.
Starting with a Walt Lemon Jr. 3-pointer to open the game, there were 49 attempts from 3-point range, a shot that didn’t exist until 1979. The big men had their beyond-the-paint range on display. And the pace was frenetic, if not with a high shooting percentage.
The Mad Ants defeated the Capital City Go-Go 113-105, led by Lemon’s 25 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
“Tonight, especially being at home, we wanted to take care of home court and be aggressive, as far as scoring the ball toward the end,” said Lemon, whose Mad Ants had dropped their previous three games in close fashion.
Daxter Miles Jr. had 21 points. Ben Moore had 17 points and 20 rebounds. And JaKeenan Gant had 10 timely points for the Mad Ants in a back-and-forth game full of dunks and fouls that went uncalled.
In another sign of the times, all three referees were women – Ashley Gilpin, Angelica Suffren and Amy Bonner – and that wouldn’t have been heard of in 1953.
“I’m happy with how we finished and how we played better in that second half,” said coach Steve Gansey, whose Mad Ants led 48-47 at halftime and trailed by two with 8:35 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Lemon had 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the fourth quarter.
“Walt needs to be aggressive every single time,” Gansey said. “If you look at our (10-14) win-loss record and then look at the stats that Walt has, if Walt doesn’t have a good game then we’re probably not going to win that game. He’s got to use his quickness – catch and go, he’s one of the quickest guys in the league – and he’s got to use that to his advantage and to our advantage. He had some nice finishes there in that second half.”
Fort Wayne made 42.2% of its shots. Capital City (10-13) shot 41.6%, getting 24 points from Admiral Schofield and 19 from Jalen Jones.
“Everybody is chipping in,” Lemon said, “but for me it’s a mindset of putting my head down and using my speed and athleticism. I use that to my advantage to get my teammates open and tonight my teammates made shots. That opened the lane up for me, as well.”
The Coliseum used to be home to an NBA team, the Zollner Pistons, who moved to Detroit in 1957. When the 1953 All-Star Game was at the newly constructed Coliseum, Andy Phillip and Larry Foust represented the Pistons and helped the Western Conference to a 79-75 victory over the Eastern Conference in front of 10,322 fans – well above its stated capacity.
On Monday, the announced attendance was 1,316 for the Mad Ants, who have carried the mantle of professional basketball in Fort Wayne since 2007, winning a championship in 2014.
The Mad Ants played without Naz Mitrou-Long (ankle), though Brian Bowen II returned from his herniated-disc injury and Fort Wayne native D.J. McCall from a concussion.
Fort Wayne opened the second quarter with a 23-15 run, culminating with a Gant put-back, to take a 41-33 lead with 3:50 remaining. But the lead was down to one at halftime, at which point Schofield had 18 points for the Go-Go.
Gant’s thunderous put-back dunk put Fort Wayne up 54-49 with 8:50 left in the third quarter. A Miles pass in the lane set up Moore for a reverse layup, a foul and a 3-point play to make it 68-59 Fort Wayne with 4:24 left in the quarter.
The Go-Go took an 85-83 lead with 8:35 remaining in the fourth, when Gant was called for goaltending.
But it was short-lived; Miles’ dunk with 5:09 left put Fort Wayne up 94-89.
Notes: The Mad Ants are holding an essay contest for students in middle school or high school to celebrate the upcoming Black History Month. The winners will get prize packs that include tickets, a personalized basketball, a tablet and an appearance on WANE-TV. For information: pacers.formstack.com/forms/bhmcontest. … Stephan Hicks played his 200th regular-season game with the Mad Ants. … Lemon is one point short of 2,000 with Fort Wayne.