Unfortunately for the Mad Ants, Alize Johnson was slated to head right back to the Indiana Pacers late Sunday.
“Unless I do something to his car, which I've thought about,” coach Steve Gansey said.
He was joking, but he probably could have found some accomplices at Memorial Coliseum after Johnson arrived unexpectedly from the Pacers and delivered a career-best 36 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists.
“He was exactly what the doctor ordered. He played his butt off. Alize always plays hard,” Gansey said after the Mad Ants got their first victory of the season, 121-113 over the Windy City Bulls in front of an announced crowd of 1,731.
Johnson, a 6-foot-7 forward, has played 32 games with the Mad Ants – 31 of them last season as a rookie – and has a whopping 24 double-doubles. With the Pacers, he has played in five games this season and averages 2.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 6.3 minutes.
“I got in here earlier today, and we went over the sets. Coach put me in the right position to score the ball and do what I do,” Johnson said. “My teammates got the ball to me, and they were playing good all around, so I thought the chemistry was there.”
Johnson broke open a tied game with a pair of free throws, followed by a layup and a scoop in the lane that led to a 3-point play to give Fort Wayne a 110-104 lead with 1:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Walt Lemon Jr. totaled 28 points and eight assists for the Mad Ants (1-6), after he and Gansey had a conversation Saturday about “hitting the reset button.”
“Walt just let the game come to him. He had a different mindset. He was playing with better pace and it's just confidence,” Gansey said. “Walt can do that when he wants to, and he's got to continue doing that for us.”
Lemon made 11 of 17 shots, after he'd come in averaging 16 points on 33% shooting.
“For the most part, I needed to play as hard as I can at both ends, be more aggressive,” Lemon said. “I need to come out and set the tone. I'm a veteran, a leader of the team, so it's my job to set the tone with my intensity at both ends. Whether it's guarding their best player or diving for loose balls, whatever it may be, I've got to play with pace.”
C.J. Wilcox made 8 of 11 3-pointers for 24 points and tied Omari Johnson and Corey Allmond for the Mad Ants' single-game 3-point record. Wilcox also had four steals.
“Honestly, I'm just happy we got a win. It's just a bonus that I tied a record,” Wilcox said. “We've been desperate for a win for a long time now, and a weight has kind of been lifted off the team. We should start playing better now.”
The Mad Ants shot a season-best 54.3% despite not having Naz Mitrou-Long, who returned from the Pacers but was ill, and JaKeenan Gant, who had a concussion.
“There are a lot of great players on this team,” Johnson said. “They just need to keep building chemistry. It's early. As time goes on, they'll figure it out.”
The Bulls (4-3), who lost 7-foot-2 Bol Bol to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, were paced by Max Strus' 22 points and seven rebounds. Milton Doyle had 21 points. Fort Wayne native V.J. Beachem was scoreless over 6:34.