FORT WAYNE – In their seven seasons, the Mad Ants had never taken the court with a target on their backs quite like they did Friday. For the first time ever, they were atop the D-League standings.
Even though the Springfield Armor was without star Willie Reed, it played like it wanted to knock the Mad Ants off their perch. But thanks to 26 points from Tony Mitchell and 24 from Jamaal Franklin, who both came off the bench, the Mad Ants won 115-104 at Memorial Coliseum.
Fort Wayne (30-16) has won 6 of 7 and 13 of 16. After a physical game Friday, it could make for an interesting rematch tonight at the Coliseum.
(The Armor) came out with great energy. We’ve got to come out and match that tomorrow, Fort Wayne coach Conner Henry said.
Games are chippy. The guys get tangled up and that’s just part of it.
Fort Wayne’s all-star, guard Ron Howard, had 16 points and is 12 shy of surpassing the 4,252 of Bakersfield’s Renaldo Major for most all-time in the regular-season. Major is currently inactive.
We haven’t talked about (the record) at all, Howard said. It’s cool, but I’m not worrying at all about that. I was just focusing on trying to win this game. As you guys saw, it was a hard one for us.
Howard, who had six assists, has played in all of the Mad Ants’ seasons, none of which had resulted in more than 27 victories.
Let’s make a big deal out of it when it happens. Our team is focused on winning games, as is Ron, and when it happens we can all celebrate for him. It’s a great accomplishment, Henry said.
Before Friday’s game, the Mad Ants learned they wouldn’t have to face Reed, who had averaged 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and was rated by the D-League as its No. 3 NBA prospect. He was signed by the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and transferred to their affiliate, Reno.
He could have made a difference, Henry said.
Mitchell, the D-League’s reigning Rookie of the Year, sank a 3-pointer on his first shot for a 19-13 lead. In his first six minutes, he had 13 points, including an end-to-end run for a layup and a 30-20 lead with 11:07 remaining in the second quarter.
The Armor, which was led by Adonis Thomas’ 30 points and Larry Anderson’s 29, surged to a four-point lead before the game was taken over by Mitchell and Franklin, the Mad Ants’ lone NBA-contract player (Memphis Grizzlies).
Mitchell’s baseline dunk and, on the next possession, 3-pointer put Fort Wayne up 85-84. His steal and dunk with 9:02 remaining in the fourth made it 91-86. Franklin hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 97-88 lead with 8:22 remaining.
Jamaal is doing a wonderful job of getting better every day on both ends of the floor, Howard said. It helps us a lot to have another weapon out there with the experience he has and the way he can shoot the ball and pass as well. It makes us that much more dangerous having him out there.