The Mad Ants feel a victory was ripe for the picking Saturday night. The opposition, the Grand Rapids Drive, was missing a bevy of its stars – Louis King, Jordan Bone and Donta Hall – to injuries or call-ups.
But Fort Wayne's execution just wasn't there in a 106-95 loss in front of 2,881 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
The Mad Ants had more turnovers (24-21), worse free-throw shooting (62.5% to 76.9%) and were outrebounded (52-41, including 18-9 at the offensive end). The result was an end to Fort Wayne's five-game winning streak and an unhappy coach Steve Gansey.
“We didn't take advantage,” he said. “We had one practice, boom, then a game. They had one practice and a game. We looked like we (were still) on (holiday) break.
“Our veterans have got to be better. Turning the ball over like that – our goal is 12 or less and we had 11 at halftime – it's just unacceptable throwing the ball all over the place. Especially against two guys, Tra-Deon Hollins and Adam Woodbury, who we've had on our team and we know how they play. We've just got to be smart, got to be smarter.”
The good news was the Mad Ants showed plenty of fight. Down 19 points in the fourth quarter, they cut the deficit to four after turning on their defensive intensity with three steals and three shot blocks.
An alley-oop – Walt Lemon Jr. set up Brian Bowen II – was followed by a Lemon 3-pointer to cut Grand Rapids' lead to 94-90 with 4:07 remaining. But the Mad Ants proceeded to miss their next three shots, all from beyond the arc, and a free throw, as the Drive retook control.
“It was tough. We put ourselves in that position and we know that,” said Bowen, who had 25 points and nine rebounds. “With offensive rebounds and turnovers, just missed defensive assignments and things like that.
“We showed some fight, for sure, and that's a great sign. I think if we would have started off the game a little bit better, it would have gotten us going. ... We showed some fight, man, and some grit. It was a tough loss, for sure, but we've got to bounce back quick.”
The Mad Ants (8-11) next play the Capital City Go-Go on Friday at Washington, D.C.
Grand Rapids (11-9) was paced by Craig Sword's 25 points. Woodbury had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Hollins had 10 points and 12 assists, as his team overcame an early 33-25 deficit with an 18-2 run to open up the second quarter on Hoops & Hounds Night.
Fans could bring their dogs, and the pets' tickets benefited the Allen County SPCA, as did an auction of the Mad Ants' jerseys that raised $3,575.
“Energy and effort should be from everybody, every single game. We talked about how it was Hoops & Hounds Night, but it was going to be a dogfight,” Gansey said. “(The Drive) were the dog that came out of the ditch and we stayed in there.”
Lemon had 22 points, five assists and four rebounds. Teammate Ben Moore had 15 points and 12 rebounds. C.J. Wilcox had 15 points, too.