RENO, Nev. – The Mad Ants trailed Reno by 13 points with less than 6 minutes remaining in the D-League playoff opener Friday afternoon at the Reno Events Center.
But they didn’t panic. Instead, they relaxed and rallied for a 97-96 win on a tip-in by Tim Ohlbrecht with 5.6 seconds left.
“We just calmed down a little bit and played the way we normally play,” Mad Ants guard Matt Bouldin said. “We just tried to string out some stops and take good shots on offense. They’re a tough team. They’re a capable team.”
Reno called a quick timeout and got a 3-point attempt by Mo Charlo with 2 seconds left, then got that rebound but a short jumper by former Mad Ants guard Russell Walker Jr. was off the mark.
“(The Bighorns) are really talented, really capable. They can beat anybody in this league, really, on any given night,” Bouldin said.
Charlo led all players with 22 points. Bouldin led the Mad Ants with 20. The teams play again at 7 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Coliseum. If necessary, Game 3 will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, also at the Coliseum.
After a back-and-forth game, the Bighorns erupted in the fourth quarter to take a 13-point lead, 89-76, with less than 6 minutes remaining.
But the Bighorns seemed to have spent all their energy and began making turnovers and allowing the Mad Ants to get rebounds. Fort Wayne got within one, 94-93, then Charlo made two free throws. Those were the last points for the Bighorns, though.
Ron Howard added 19 points for the Mad Ants, and Tony Mitchell had 17. Sadiel Rojas had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
K.C. Rivers added 19 points for the Bighorns, Willie Reed had 15 and DeQuan Jones had 13 points and nine rebounds.
The Bighorns committed 20 turnovers in the game, to 12 for the Mad Ants, several of those in the final minutes.
Charlo said the Bighorns let the game get away.
“Down the stretch, we have to keep our composure and not have turnovers. Take care of the ball,” Charlo said. “Play the right way. We let this one go.”
Mad Ants assistant coach Steven Gansey said coach Conner Henry fired the team up with less than 2 minutes remaining and facing an eight-point deficit.
“Coach kind of got into them, and we needed to play harder, we made a sub, Bouldin went in and made some plays. Our defense rose and played pretty well,” Gansey said.
“Every team right now is 0-0, the records don’t actually reflect on the team. We stole one out here.”
Jones agreed that the game showed the two teams are evenly matched despite their seedings.
The Mad Ants, the No. 1 seed, chose to play Reno, the No. 8 seed, under the D-League’s playoff scheduling.
“It showed we can compete and be successful if we do the right things and stick to our game plan,” Jones said. “Our confidence was really high. Our coaches did a really good job of going over the plays and their sets.”
Bouldin said winning the D-League playoffs is important.
“Nobody wants to come out and lose in the playoffs,” he said. “We have a long season, we’re just trying to keep it going.”
Reno coach Joel Abelson said his team needs to be more resilient.
“We stopped making plays. We stopped defending, and they made every shot they took,” Abelson said. “We could have made it easier on ourselves.”