The Mad Ants fell to 0-2 with a 121-117 loss Saturday to the Long Island Nets, but it wasn't all doom and gloom afterward.
Considering the Mad Ants had been downright abhorrent in their season-opening 117-89 loss Friday to the Lakeland Magic, the potential for this Fort Wayne team could at least be seen in front of 3,370 fans at the Coliseum.
“There was a big difference,” said Naz Mitrou-Long, who led Fort Wayne with 26 points and 10 assists. “We played with a greater sense of urgency. All the guys were gang rebounding, doing the little things. I thought we played a really good half of defense. The second half could have been better.
“(Friday) was not our identity, we didn't represent the organization well and it wasn't a true testament to who we are. So, today was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Walt Lemon Jr. had 22 points for Fort Wayne (0-2). Stephan Hicks added 21 points and 11 rebounds.
“I was really happy with the way we responded from (Friday) night,” coach Steve Gansey said. “I was obviously disappointed with (Friday) night and we played a lot better. It's extremely difficult to win in this league any night. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don't. I thought we played a lot better, and I was more positive with the team. It was a more fun game to coach, that's for sure.”
It was clear from the outset the Mad Ants would be better – they scored the game's first nine points – and they took a 43-35 lead on C.J. Wilcox's 3-pointer with 9:41 remaining in the second quarter. But then the Nets, playing their season opener, took control with a 51-34 stretch that culminated with a C.J. Massinburg layup for an 86-77 lead with 4:42 left in the third quarter.
“If we don't finish at the basket, we've got to get back and we've got to defend. That's a big part of the game,” Gansey said. “You've got to play the full 48 (minutes) and it's long. That's why there's never a lead that's too safe in this league.”
Long Island was up 112-99 with 3:33 left in the fourth, but Fort Wayne cut the deficit to three with 30 second left, thanks to an Ike Nwamu 3-pointer, but the Mad Ants couldn't get closer than that.
“We've got to stay true to what coach Gansey is preaching,” Mitrou-Long said. “That's ultimately staying tough and trusting in each other, and doing the little things, man. Being a part of this team is about getting the 50-50 balls, about playing defense, about doing everything you can for the guy next to you. We did more of that tonight. If we keep continuing to do the right things, like we are, we'll continue to grow and start winning.”
Devin Cannady scored 23 points to pace Long Island. C.J. Williams added 20 points.
Hasheem Thabeet, the Mad Ants' first-round pick in this year's G League Draft, and the No. 2 overall pick from the 2009 NBA Draft, had eight points, six rebounds and four shot blocks in 26 minutes in his Fort Wayne debut.