FORT WAYNE — The Mad Ants got another victory Saturday – their seventh in their last eight games – but it was really Ron Howard’s night.
In the midst of his 20 points was a shot from just inside the 3-point line in the third quarter that made him the D-League’s all-time leading scorer in regular-season play.
“I didn’t know that was the shot. I wasn’t keeping track when it happened,” said Howard, whose Mad Ants defeated the Springfield Armor 114-90 in front of 4,024 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
“To get the applause from the crowd, our fans, that meant the most to me because they took our family in when we came here seven years ago. It just feels good to know where I come from and to be here now. It’s such a great feeling, such a blessing that I’m here and my wife and children were here to see it.”
Howard came in needing 12 points to surpass Bakersfield’s Renaldo Major’s 4,252 points. Face-to-face with Bruce Massey, Howard took his time before sinking the shot for his 4,254th point, and he drew a foul, too.
“I’m sure it will really hit me later on, but I was trying to stay focused and hit the free throw,” said Howard, who has played in each of the Mad Ants’ seven seasons, and also had a team-best eight rebounds.
The record-setting shot got Fort Wayne within two points at 60-58 – the Mad Ants had trailed by as many as 15 – and the game was stopped for a couple minutes so Howard could be presented the game ball and hugged by longtime teammates like Chris Porter and Sadiel Rojas.
“What a great night,” Fort Wayne coach Conner Henry said. “I wasn’t quite sure when it was going to happen, and then it did. I was kind of surprised when it did, and it turned into a real nice moment.
“I wish we could have celebrated a little bit more, stopped the game for a little bit longer, but it was great that the fans got to enjoy it and all his teammates came out and gave him a heartfelt hug.”
The Mad Ants (31-16), who had never been atop the league until this week, have won 14 of 17 games including Friday’s 115-104 victory over Springfield at the Coliseum.
Surpassing Major, who is currently inactive but on the Bakersfield roster, wasn’t at the forefront early as the Mad Ants struggled to keep pace with the Armor (20-27).
Springfield went up 51-36 with 4:56 remaining in the second quarter, thanks to an L.D. Williams 3-pointer. Fort Wayne rookie Trey McKinney Jones helped keep Fort Wayne in it; he had 13 points and made 5 of 6 shots before halftime, when the Armor led 55-49.
Howard’s record shot sparked an 18-4 run that culminated with a pair of Matt Bouldin free throws and a 74-64 lead with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter.
Bouldin had a team-best 21 points. McKinney-Jones added 18.
The Ants cemented the victory with 3:21 left in the fourth quarter, when Jamaal Franklin sent a long bounce pass, as he got body checked at mid-court, to league dunk champion Tony Mitchell for a windmill slam and a 104-88 lead.
Adonis Thomas had 21 points for the Armor.
“We played really well today and got a big win. Springfield is a good team and their record doesn’t reflect it,” Howard said. “I’m very excited to be in this position to know that we’ve taken care of business thus far this season.”