Even if the Mad Ants don’t qualify for the playoffs – and they’re a long shot to do so – this will be remembered as the season of the comebacks.
The Mad Ants rallied from eight points down with 1:39 left to defeat the Grand Rapids Drive 105-103 on Sunday. It may not have been as otherworldly as coming back from 35 points down to beat Canton, as the Mad Ants did to set a G League record Feb. 1, but it was impressive given the gravity of the game.
The Mad Ants (20-22), who face the Drive (25-17) again on Wednesday in Grand Rapids, have eight games left in the regular season and are 11/2 games back of the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s a different vibe because we started off 0-6. To do that and still be in the playoff picture, it shows how resilient we are as individuals, as men, as a group collectively,” Walt Lemon Jr. said. “We just stuck to the game plan and didn’t fold. It’s easy, when you’re losing, to point the fingers and do the blame game. We just stuck together, took it one game at a time, and it’s starting to turn around for us.”
Lemon, who totaled 25 points and eight assists, got the winning basket by driving through the lane to send the ball off the glass for a 104-103 lead with 16 seconds remaining.
“I knew they’d played zone all game,” Lemon said, “so I knew I’d have some opportunity to get into the lane. We had four shooters out there ... and I knew in crunch time that (their) guy tend to stay with the shooters. Ben (Moore) did a great job of setting me up with a great screen and I was able to come down against them.”
Fort Wayne’s Alize Johnson knocked the ball out of a driving Dakarai Allen’s hands and into the grasp of the Mad Ants’ Daxter Miles Jr. with 4.3 seconds remaining. After Miles made 1 of 2 free throws, he intercepted a wild inbounds pass by Grand Rapids’ Tra-Deon Hollins to cement the victory.
“I don’t think you can ever give up on yourself. One minute and 39 (seconds), that’s a lot of time on the clock in the NBA G League,” said Miles, who had 13 points. “We got some key stops when we needed it, as a team, some key rebounds. And we stayed aggressive.”
Hollins may have been the game’s most significant figure for both the good and the bad. He led the Drive with 20 points and 12 assists, but he helped Grand Rapids cough up a 103-101 lead with 26.2 seconds remaining. Hollins was fouled by Miles on an inbounds pass and complained to the officials anyway to draw a technical foul. Fort Wayne’s Brian Bowen II converted the technical foul free throw, and Hollins missed both of his to set up Lemon for his winning shot.
“I tell our guys that our defense is our best offense. It’s just (about) getting stops,” Fort Wayne coach Steve Gansey said. “We weren’t getting stops. There were plays where we got beat backdoor. The offensive rebounds that they had, they’re a very physical team and the No. 1 defensive team in the league ... and I was proud of our guys for finishing all the way through.”
Bowen had 20 points in front of a crowd of 5,989 on hand for Faith & Family Night.
“We feed off their energy. I haven’t seen fans all the way (to the 600 level) since maybe dating back to when we won the championship in 2014,” Gansey said. “It was great. We’ve got to keep filling those seats. It’s a huge advantage for us – we’ve got two more home games left – and it’s great to have our fans behind us.”