It has been a season of firsts for the Mad Ants.
They got a franchise-record 34 victories and earned their first regular-season championship. And now they’ve got their first playoff series victory.
After trailing by seven points early, the Mad Ants defeated Reno 115-93 on Sunday night at Memorial Coliseum, completing a two-game sweep of the eighth-seeded Bighorns.
The Mad Ants had an unlikely hero in center Will Frisby, who scored 17 of his 20 points and made seven straight shots in the fourth quarter, also finishing with 11 rebounds.
This was definitely a statement game, said Frisby, whose team will play the winner of the series between fourth-seeded Sioux Falls and seventh-seeded Canton that will be decided tonight in South Dakota. We’re sending out a statement to the other teams in the league, particularly to Sioux Falls and Canton, letting them know that we’re waiting on you guys now. We wanted to show our dominance.
The D-League semifinals, which will also be best-of-three, will start on the road as early as Thursday.
The Mad Ants (34-16 in regular season) won the opening game of this series, 97-96, in Nevada on Friday. Tim Ohlbrecht had the winning shot with five seconds left, after the Mad Ants trailed by 13 points.
That first game in Reno, they had us. We were a little flat, Fort Wayne coach Conner Henry said. The elevation had something to do with it. Being in Reno for two days prior, our execution and our physicality was not as good as usual. We wanted to make sure we got it done tonight because Canton and Sioux Falls have another game and any rest we get will help.
For the second straight game, Reno (27-23) was without its best player, injured point guard Sundiata Gaines, and it showed as the Bighorns committed 29 turnovers, and the Mad Ants had 19 steals, including five apiece from Ron Howard and Matt Bouldin. We were locked in defensively for 48 minutes, Henry said.
Still, an 8-1 run put the Bighorns up 27-20 seconds into the second quarter. But the Mad Ants quickly strung together a series of great plays to go up 32-31 with 8:10 remaining in the half. There was a no-look pass from Tony Mitchell to Ohlbrecht in the paint for a basket; a Howard steal and fastbreak layup; and a series of crisp passes that ended with a Sadiel Rojas a 3-pointer.
A long cross-court pass from Howard to Trey McKinney-Jones led to an easy layup and a 61-53 lead with 7:23 remaining in the third quarter. The Bighorns got back within one before McKinney-Jones dribbled past Ra’Shad James and hit a baseline jumper as time expired in the third quarter for a 71-68 lead.
Frisby, who averaged 7.4 points during the regular season, then took over.
Mitchell led the Mad Ants with 21 points on 7 of 19 shooting before he was ejected early in the fourth quarter for getting his second technical foul because he kicked a player while dunking. In the series, Mitchell was 14 of 43 for 38 points.
If we just do our thing, stay together and play hard, we’ll have success, said Rojas, who had 18 points and was 3 of 7 from 3-point range.
Reno was led by Trent Lockett’s 20 points and 15 apiece from James and K.C. Rivers.
Before this season, their seventh, the Mad Ants had been to the playoffs only once and got swept last year by Santa Cruz.