The Mad Ants lost for the eighth time in their nine games, but this was different. They built their first substantial lead of the season – 18 points in the second quarter – and showed more hustle and rebounding tenacity.
The Mad Ants, however, couldn't close it out.
Former Purdue player Dakota Mathias converted an off-balance 3-pointer with 11 seconds left and Naz Mitrou-Long smothering him defensively, and that was the decisive shot of the Texas Legends' 108-105 victory in front of an announced crowd of 2,288 at Memorial Coliseum on Friday night.
Mitrou-Long had Fort Wayne's first triple-double of the season with 15 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He'd missed the previous five games, three because he was with the Indiana Pacers and two with an illness.
Walt Lemon Jr. had 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting, as Fort Wayne wore psychedelic-looking jerseys for Grateful Dead Night.
Aric Holman led Texas (6-3) with 24 points.
Asked how the morale of the Mad Ants (1-8) was after the game, Brian Bowen II said: “I think it's high-energy. It's obviously deflating after being up 18 points or whatever we were. It's really deflating. But we can't harp on it. We've got another big game coming up, a big home game.”
The Mad Ants face the defending champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers at 7 p.m. Monday at the Coliseum, where they'll continue working on the two things coach Steve Gansey said were most important: Rebounding and limiting turnovers.
They were excellent in the former with a 58-43 rebounding advantage, including 18-6 in offensive boards. Impressive considering the Mad Ants had only one center on hand, Hasheem Thabeet, as JaKeenan Gant missed a third game with a concussion and Travin Thibodeaux sat out with an ankle injury
“(Rebounding) was a big positive. It's good to see our guards getting in there and getting rebounds,” said Gansey, whose team had a 56-42 advantage in scoring in the paint.
Bowen had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Stephan Hicks had 18 points and 14 rebounds. Thabeet had two points and nine rebounds.
Turnovers were a different story as Fort Wayne had 21, five more than Texas, including 10 from Mitrou-Long.
“Offensively, we'd talked about taking care of the ball and that was way too many turnovers,” Gansey said. “That's been our Achilles' right now, offensively. We've got to take care of the ball, it's that simple.”
Mathias, who hails from Elida, Ohio, and played in Spain last year, came in averaging 19.6 points over eight games. Against the Mad Ants, he totaled 23 points, including 6-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. Texas made 15 of 35 attempts from beyond the arc.
The Mad Ants, who beat the Windy City Bulls 121-113 on Sunday for their lone victory, felt they showed much improvement Friday when they got their first lead of over 10 points this season.
“For sure,” Bowen said. “Coming out of the gate, we played really well and were aggressive, got to the glass. That was a big thing, attacking the glass and getting the boards. We played solid defense. Overall, it was an improvement for sure.”