Was Kobe Bryant on the minds of the Mad Ants’ players as they delivered the biggest comeback in G League history? You bet.
“That’s my favorite player ever, a big role model for me,” said Daxter Miles Jr., after the Mad Ants’ 124-118 victory Saturday night over the Canton Charge in front of 3,719 spirited fans at Memorial Coliseum.
In the first game at the Coliseum since Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a Calabasas, California, helicopter crash, the Mad Ants rallied from 35 points down in the third quarter.
“We said, ‘Let’s try to cut the lead to like 15 and see what happens.’ We did it. The team bought in. That’s all the happened,” said Miles, who scored all of his 29 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer from the corner that tied it at 115 with 2:43 left.
(Video of Miles' night is above.)
Alize Johnson, who has double-doubles in all nine of his G League games this season, had 19 points and 19 rebounds hours after he was sent down by the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. His reverse layup with 2:15 left gave Fort Wayne the lead for good at 117-115.
Walt Lemon Jr. had 28 points. Stephan Hicks scored his 18 points in the second half, as the Mad Ants (14-15) won for the 11th time in the last 16 games.
There were tributes to Bryant, the longtime Los Angeles Lakers star, throughout the night, including a pregame moment of silence, coach Steve Gansey wearing a No. 24 shirt under his sport jacket, and Brian Bowen II reminding the fans in a pregame address to give their loved ones “big hugs, let them know that you love them, because you never know when it’s someone’s time.”
The Mad Ants had played in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, the night before Bryant, 41, died.
Hicks, a native of Los Angeles, said after Saturday’s victory, which drew a standing ovation from the fans: “It’s been a tough week. Not only for me, but for everybody in the whole world. He meant so much to people in their lives. He always fought and played 100% throughout the whole game, so it’s good that we tried to do that for him.”
The Mad Ants had been on the other side of the previous greatest comeback in G League history, coughing up a 34-point lead to Lakeland in 2017.
The biggest comeback for a victory in NBA history is 36 points by Utah over Denver in 1998.
“I’m just happy that all the fans stayed and didn’t leave at halftime,” Gansey said.
“At halftime, I laid on into (the players) a little bit and I wrote one word on the board – ‘fight’ – and you’ve got to take pride in it. We weren’t doing anything in that first half. We weren’t talking and they were just playing more physical than us. Sometimes you’ve got to dig deep and find out what you’re made of. It was a great second half for us.”
Canton (20-11) was paced by Tyler Cook's 28 points, Sheldon Mac’s 27 and 21 from Matt Mooney, who had made his first five shots as the Charge built a 72-42 halftime lead.
“It was just energy and playing hard,” Hicks said. “I don’t think we were playing that hard in the first half and they got a lot of easy stuff. In the second half, we changed our mentality and that’s why we came out with the victory.”