The Force continues to be strong with the Mad Ants, who defeated the Iowa Energy 133-113 on "Star Wars Night" at Memorial Coliseum, taking over first place in the East Division in the process.
Led by Jamaal Franklin's 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds on Saturday, in front of 5,567 fans, the Mad Ants won for the 17th time in the last 24 games.
However, the Mad Ants (23-14) had so many problems putting away Iowa (21-13), they couldn't have been blamed had they called upon Yoda and Obi-Wan for help.
Ultimately, they didn't need to turn to the dark side; they just needed balanced scoring.
Ron Howard had 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Tony Mitchell had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Matt Bouldin had 19 points. And Will Frisby and Sadiel Rojas combined for 27 points and 24 rebounds.
"I think the coaching staff and probably a few of the players aged a little bit in that third quarter, when they erased our 16-point halftime lead," Mad Ants head coach Conner Henry said.
"But (assistant coaches Steve Gansey and Roman Youngpeter) did a good job in one timeout and gave me good advice defensively and we got the guys to refocus and we matched up and started to wrestle the rhythm to us."
Before the game, the Mad Ants acquired center Tim Ohlbrecht from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for a first-round draft pick. Ohlbrecht, 6-foot-11, was a D-League All-Star in 2013. This season, he averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 32 games with Rio Grande Valley and will fill the void left by the departure of center Brian Butch, who bought out his contract last week to play in the Philippines.
Ohlbrecht didn't play Saturday – Darths Vader and Maul delivered the game ball before the opening tip – and the Energy scored nine of the first 14 points.
But a Howard jump shot kicked off a 20-5 Fort Wayne run that culminated with a pair of free throws from the Memphis Grizzlies' Franklin and a 25-14 lead with 2:09 remaining in the first quarter.
The Energy cruised back to only a four-point deficit. But a Mitchell jump shot kick-started another big Mad Ants run – in which they scored 18 of 23 points – to take a 45-28 lead on a thunderous Franklin dunk.
The lead ballooned to as many as 23 points but, yet again, the Energy surged and got within two at 72-70 before a Franklin 3-pointer from the corner on the ensuing possession culled the momentum with 6:21 left in the third quarter.
The Mad Ants finished the game with a 40-28 run, led by 10 points from Franklin and nine from Bouldin.
"(Iowa) has got a great team. In my opinion, it's one of the best in the league," Bouldin said. "They have a lot of veteran guys and know how to play and have a lot of pride. They weren't going to let us kill them like that and they had a good run. We just weathered the storm."
Iowa was paced by Otyhus Jeffers' 22 points and six rebounds.