The Journal Gazette
Saturday, December 28, 2019 1:00 am

Chemistry, Moore's return help explain Ants' success

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

We aren't even to the midway point of 2019-20, but it seems the Mad Ants have already played through two seasons.

There was the abhorrent start – the worst in franchise history – that saw Fort Wayne lose its first six games and eight of its first nine.

Now, the Mad Ants are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference with five straight victories, including two at the G League Winter Showcase at Las Vegas, heading into today's 7 p.m. game at Memorial Coliseum against the Grand Rapids Drive.

So who can make sense of the 8-10 Mad Ants?

The players have said it just took time for them to build chemistry with one another.

“Guys are just buying into the system,” Walt Lemon Jr. said. “I think at the beginning, nobody really blamed each other, except for a couple guys. Myself, I'd only played with Stephan Hicks, and I think guys really had a hard time getting the chemistry down and understanding what it takes to win a basketball game over 48 minutes.

“It's not how you start, man, it's how you finish. And we're getting on the right track by getting these wins.”

It took help from the parent club to get things rolling.

The Indiana Pacers sending Alize Johnson helped the Mad Ants get their first victory of the season – he had 36 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in the 121-113 victory over Windy City on Nov. 24 – and he has been back for four of the 11 games since.

Also playing one game apiece on assignment from the Pacers have been Goga Bitadze, JaKarr Sampson and Edmond Sumner, and they were all in uniform for victories. But there's no telling if the Pacers will keep sending players of that ilk.

For the Mad Ants' part, re-signing Ben Moore has been pivotal. The five-game winning streak began with his return, and he's averaged 13.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists after he started the season in Turkey. Moore's presence has alleviated the pain of losing Naz Mitrou-Long for the last four games to an ankle injury.

While upping the Mad Ants' level of talent has helped in recent weeks, that only works if the players are on the same page with what they're trying to do on the floor. Knowing the playbook is one thing; knowing each other is another.

“The timing of a lot of that is what's most difficult,” said coach Steve Gansey, whose team is 18 games into the 50-game season. “If a guy is going to go up for a lob, or if there's a bounce pass, timing of certain plays is important. But we want to put the best product on the floor with talent.”

It should be noted that the four teams the Mad Ants have defeated during this winning streak – Erie, Wisconsin, Northern Arizona and Rio Grande Valley – have a 26-44 combined record. Only one, Wisconsin (14-3), has a winning record.

But that schedule is about to get a bit more difficult, starting with Grand Rapids (10-9), which defeated Fort Wayne 111-96 on Nov. 26.

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