FORT WAYNE – The Mad Ants’ lineup lacked the flair of having NBA prospects, but it didn’t lack a winning form. Paced by Tony R. Mitchell’s 27 points, the Mad Ants defeated the Sioux Falls Skyforce 89-83 in front of 2,671 fans Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.
It was the 13th victory in the last 19 games for the Mad Ants (19-13), a run that began Jan. 3, and a big difference between the teams in the back-and-forth game was composure.
Trey McKinney-Jones’ drive put the Mad Ants up 82-79 with 1:50 remaining and then the Skyforce (19-12) fell apart.
It started with a traveling call and then Sioux Falls star DeAndre Liggins was given his second technical foul and ejected for arguing a foul. Then, Sioux Falls’ Tre Kelley got a flagrant 2 foul while battling with Fort Wayne’s Sadiel Rojas for a rebound. Kelley was ejected with 1:12 left, and Rojas made the two ensuing free throws for an 84-79 lead that put the Mad Ants in control.
Sometimes we have those moments, like fouling late down the stretch when the other team is in the bonus, Fort Wayne coach Conner Henry said, referencing Rojas fouling out late. But we try to limit our meltdowns, and we don’t have a lot of technicals on this team. Periodically, we get the occasional one, but for the most part we try to maintain our composure, and we capitalized on them losing theirs tonight.
Ron Howard, who will be the lone Fort Wayne player in the D-League All-Star Game on Saturday, had 20 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Rojas had 15 points and 15 rebounds.
After Wednesday’s 118-103 victory over Bakersfield at the Coliseum, all three of the Mad Ants’ NBA prospects were recalled. Orlando Johnson went back to the Indiana Pacers, while Peyton Siva and the other Tony Mitchell went to the Detroit Pistons.
The reshaped Mad Ants fell behind early, just as they had the day before, and they trailed 26-13 before going on a 17-4 run to tie the game. Mitchell led the surge with 11 points and a great assist; he was falling out of bounds when he took a pass from Howard and sent the ball, one-handed, to Chris Porter under the glass for a layup with 6:31 left in the second quarter.
The Skyforce, which was led by Justin Hamilton’s 17 points and Larry Drew’s 16, got back to a 12-point lead at 56-44 with 5:51 remaining in the third quarter before the Mad Ants showed their resiliency again.
Darnell Lazare blocked a Liggins shot off the backboard to set up a fast break for Mitchell, who on the ensuing possession made a 3-pointer to cut the Sioux Falls lead to 59-58 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter.
Mitchell, who will defend his slam dunk title during halftime of the All-Star Game in New Orleans, was 11 of 26 from the field and had six rebounds as Fort Wayne improved to 2-2 against Sioux Falls.
We’ve just got to stay patient with what we do, said Mad Ants center Brian Butch, who had 10 points and seven rebounds in his best game since being acquired in trade with Bakersfield on Feb. 3 for a second-round draft pick and the rights to Anthony Richardson.
We’re a really good basketball team that moves the ball and plays together as a team. I think we got away from some of our defensive principles (early in the game), but we got back to it.