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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Mad Ants guard Walt Lemon Jr. scores over Lakeland guard John Petrucelli in the third quarter Sunday at Memorial Coliseum. Lemon finished with 18 points.  

  • Hollins

Monday, January 08, 2018 1:00 am

Mad Ants 105 Lakeland 79

Little-used rookie guard shines in Ants' win

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Even when he's on the bench – and that's a lot of the time – rookie Tra-Deon Hollins loves to find ways to keep his teammates fired up.

“He talks a lot; he talks to other teams,” Mad Ants guard Trey McKinney Jones said. “If anybody on our team dunks, everybody looks at T-D immediately because he mimics the dunks, every time. He's fun, on and off the court.”

On Sunday, however, Hollins got the opportunity to energize his teammates in more tangible ways, and the point guard certainly delivered.

Hollins, 22, was so good in the fourth quarter, making 4 of 6 shots for 13 points with four assists and two steals, MVP candidate Walt Lemon Jr.'s services weren't needed as the Mad Ants polished off a 105-79 victory over the Lakeland Magic in front of 2,015 fans at Memorial Coliseum.

“It was exciting. I was just trying to go out there and do my job, push the tempo and make everybody better,” said Hollins, who finished 4 of 9 for 13 points with five assists and four steals. “I knew my time would come. I'm playing behind the best point guard in the G League, so I've had to be even keel, just get better and learn from him.”

Jarrod Uthoff had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Mad Ants (14-10), whose three-game winning streak is their longest since an eight-game streak gave them an 8-1 start to the season.

Lemon had 18 points. But once Hollins had control of the offense in the fourth, the Mad Ants outscored the Magic 35-16.

DeQuan Jones added 17 points for the Mad Ants, who overcame an early 12-point deficit and avenged two road losses to the Magic (13-10) that started their December slump. Lakeland was paced by Jamel Artis' 20 points and Rodney Purvis' 15.

“That was the first time Walt's been sitting on the bench the entire fourth quarter. But that's what this team is built on, its depth, and they've got to be ready to go,” said Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey, who had used Lemon so much coming into the game that he ranked fourth in minutes per game (38.9) and points per game (23.3). “Tra-Deon has been working his butt off. He's playing behind Walt ... but he's been working and he deserves this.”

Hollins, who played last season at Nebraska-Omaha, came into the night averaging only 10.8 minutes, 2.9 points and 2.2 assists, and he credited Lemon's tutelage for his breakout performance Sunday.

“He's helped me play with confidence,” Hollins said. “He's taught me a lot of things during practice. Early on, I thought I knew it all. But once I relaxed and really started watching, my game started to progress. So I'm happy with things.”

The Mad Ants now go to Mississauga, Ontario, for the G League Showcase, an event in which every team plays in front of NBA scouts, and Fort Wayne will face Oklahoma City on Thursday and Salt Lake City on Saturday.

jcohn@jg.net