With back-to-back victories over the Iowa Energy – including a 111-109 victory at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday – the Mad Ants have taken over first place in the D-League’s East Division for the first time this season.
“Nothing changes. We’ve just got to stay the course and stick with our game plan,” said rookie guard Kyle Randall, who played a career-high 39 minutes 45 seconds because Mad Ants star Ron Howard was out with an Achilles injury.
“We want to come out and be the hardest-working team, every time out on the floor, execute and do the little things to win the game, no matter whether we’re in first or last place,” Randall said.
The Mad Ants (14-8) were without Howard and his team-leading 23.3 points per game for the first time this season. He has led the team in scoring in all but five games.
On Sunday, in front of 2,544 fans, the Mad Ants were led by rookie Trey McKinney-Jones’ 24 points and Tony Mitchell’s 23. Sadiel Rojas added 19 points and 18 rebounds, a night after he had a career-best 36 points in a 142-131 victory at Des Moines, Iowa. No Mad Ants player had more than 13 rebounds in a game coming into Sunday.
Fort Wayne’s Chris Porter had 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Randall had 13 points, two assists and only three turnovers while running the point and playing more than 27 minutes for the first time.
“It was a good test (not having Howard) and we were talking before the game that we still felt we had plenty,” said Mad Ants coach Conner Henry, whose team is 5-1 and has won five straight against the Energy (14-8). Othyus Jeffers scored 22 points to lead Iowa.
The Mad Ants trailed 95-85 with 7:22 remaining and then got, consecutively, a McKinney-Jones jump shot, a Rojas drive for a basket, a reverse by Mitchell and a Mitchell baseline jumper to trim the deficit to two points.
“We went with a small lineup there … and our energy picked up and we were able to switch a lot of things,” Henry said. “We just tried to make them make shots over us, which is really the game plan every night, but we’re all very proud of the stretch that we’ve had.”
Fort Wayne went up for good, at 101-100 with 2:52 left, when Mitchell got the rebound of a missed McKinney-Jones shot and monstrously dunked it in.
“We’re brothers in here and we all like each other, so after (Saturday) night, we decided to all play together and play hard and get some rebounds,” Rojas said. “We rebounded and defended, which we hadn’t really done (as well) the previous two games.”
Iowa (14-8) got 21 points apiece from Kalin Lucas and Austin Freeman.
“We’ve got to keep grinding and keep going,” Rojas said. “This was just one more ‘W’ and we’re trying to get to 35, so we’ve got a long ways to go.”
Notes: Jamaal Franklin returned to the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. In three games with Fort Wayne, he averaged 10.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists. The Mad Ants are now without an NBA-contracted player. … One of the shot clocks broke when an Iowa shot from beyond center court hit it at the end of the first half. Because there were no backup clocks at the Coliseum, the Mad Ants public address announcer had to count down from 10 seconds each possession.