The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, December 03, 2019 1:00 am

Mad Ants 113 Rio Grande Valley 111

Rebounding, defense key to Mad Ants' 2nd victory

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Mad Ants are doing the little things better. They're getting contributions from more players. And they're getting some victories, two in their last four games.

That includes a 113-111 victory Monday night over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, in front of an announced crowd of 1,302 fans at Memorial Coliseum.

“At the end of the day, it was just us coming together, rebounding the ball. And playing on the defensive end is really the biggest thing,” Fort Wayne's Brian Bowen II said. “Those were the keys in the second half for us to get that lead. Overall, it was a really good collective win and I'm glad we got it for sure.”

Naz Mitrou-Long had 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Mad Ants (2-8). C.J. Wilcox had 22 points, including 7-of-11 shooting from 3-point range.

Bowen added 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Stephan Hicks had 14 points and 10 rebounds, as Fort Wayne outrebounded the Vipers 51-42.

“I wouldn't say we've turned a corner, but we've taken a step in the right direction,” Mitrou-Long said. “We made some progress in the (108-105 loss to Texas on Friday). ... I just thought we didn't execute down the stretch. But then, ultimately, RGV played the same type of style and that prepared us and got us ready for tonight and we won.”

It helped that Fort Wayne's JaKeenan Gant, who had missed the previous four games with a concussion, had 16 points and five rebounds, including a thunderous dunk set up by Mitrou-Long for a 107-102 lead with 3:54 left.

It also helped that Fort Wayne native D.J. McCall had another strong night of hustle and grit plays, the biggest coming with 31 seconds left, when he took a charge from Brandon Sampson, who was driving to give the Vipers the lead.

“That's something I picked up in college (for IUPUI),” McCall said. “A lot of one-on-one situations, since I'm not really a shot-blocker, I wanted to make sure I was set and outside the circle. I thought for a second the officials were going to reverse it (on video review), but I got lucky.”

McCall didn't score but had six rebounds and three assists over 23:38.

“Guys like D.J. coming on the floor, it's just the next man up and that's the philosophy of the whole (Indiana) Pacers organization,” Mitrou-Long said. “You see a guy like D.J., in his hometown, and he just wants to be a guy who's on the floor. If he's not on the floor, then he's on the bench giving it his all. I commend him and he really set a great tone for us.”

The Vipers still had a chance to take the lead after Hicks threw the ball away, but Angel Rodriguez missed a layup. Rio Grande Valley's Jaron Blossomgame was fouled on the rebound but missed two free throws with 8 seconds left and Fort Wayne ahead 112-111.

Blossomgame and Sampson scored 20 points apiece to pace Rio Grande Valley (2-9), which won the G League championship last season with a much different lineup.

“I just thought our talking was better,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “Communicating was something we've really stressed. We've been trying to pinpoint one thing on offense and one thing on defense, every single game, and just get better at them and try to do it.

“But the basketball gods were on our side tonight with some missed free throws.”

Notes: Victor Oladipo, the Pacers' star recovering from a knee injury, will be with the Mad Ants for practice today and Wednesday. The Mad Ants play at 7 p.m. Thursday in Erie, Pennsylvania.

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