The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 07, 2020 1:00 am

Surging Mad Ants thinking playoffs

Have won 6 of 8 after franchise-worst start

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Making the playoffs seemed a far-fetched idea for the Mad Ants just a month ago.

Now, they're in the thick of things.

They've won six of their last eight games – suffering a controversial loss Saturday – heading into today's 7 p.m. game against the Wisconsin Herd at Memorial Coliseum.

With 29 games remaining, the Mad Ants (9-12) have reason for optimism.

“We've just got to keep putting our head down and keep working,” coach Steve Gansey said. “It's a long season.”

While winning the division may seem out of the question – the Herd is a division- and conference-best 17-4 – Fort Wayne is in 11th place and only two games back of the conference's final wild-card spot.

That's despite Saturday's 112-111 overtime loss to the Canton Charge.

Fort Wayne had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds of overtime but C.J. Wilcox missed a 3-pointer. Stephan Hicks got the rebound, went up for a shot and appeared to draw a foul. Instead, a coach's challenge resulted in determination it was a shot block and the referees ruled a jump ball, which the Mad Ants won but failed to get another shot off in time.

“I'm confident in our team,” said Gansey, whose Mad Ants had defeated the Capital City Go-Go 128-126 in Washington, D.C., on Friday. “Obviously, it was a tough back-to-back, one of the toughest back-to-backs we're going to have all year in playing in D.C. and going to Canton (Ohio) the very next day. That's extremely difficult for any team.”

The Mad Ants' 1-8 start was the worst in franchise history. 

Their current run coincided with the return of Ben Moore, who had been playing overseas, and is averaging 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in eight games.

But the entire team has improved.

“It's good and we've just got to keep going,” Gansey said. “I like our effort, our energy. ... We're trending in the right direction.”

The NBA's Indiana Pacers are expected to assign Goga Bitadze and Alize Johnson to the Mad Ants for today's game. The Pacers' Victor Oladipo, who continues to rehabilitate his injured quad, practiced with the Mad Ants on Monday before returning to Indianapolis.

The Mad Ants have, recently, been working on increasing their defensive intensity.

“I think it's just a mental thing with everybody,” Brian Bowen II said. “We've just got to lock in the tendencies, know whether guys can shoot or whether we gap the guys, whether guys are crashing the offensive glass. We've just got to pay attention to that.”

Gansey said the fine-tuning is going on at both ends of the court, though.

“Right now, whether it's the offensive or defensive end, we've just got to continue to understand what we're in and execute that, one possession at a time,” he said. “That's what we're trying to stress to the guys. ... And, continuing to play for each other and that 'every possession counts' mindset.”

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