FORT WAYNE – The Mad Ants are confident heading into the best-of-three D-League Finals, which begin tonight in Santa Cruz, Calif.
They’re a great team, but I expect it’ll be two games and we’re taking home the crown. That’s what we’re expecting, forward Sadiel Rojas said. We’re expecting to finish it off (in Game 2) Saturday night, after going down there and taking care of business (tonight).
The Mad Ants took the top seed in the playoffs after going 34-16 in the regular season, and they opened the playoffs with sweeps over eighth-seeded Reno and fourth-seeded Sioux Falls.
Sixth-seeded Santa Cruz, which was 29-21 in the regular season, swept second-seeded Los Angeles and finished a three-game series with fifth-seeded Rio Grande Valley with a 147-128 road victory Monday.
The Mad Ants have been led in the playoffs by Tony Mitchell’s 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, and Matt Bouldin has averaged 17.5 points and 7 assists.
Santa Cruz has been paced by former Fort Wayne player Cameron Jones’ 25.2 points per game, and Seth Curry is averaging 25 points.
The Warriors are averaging 134.6 points, but Fort Wayne guard Trey McKinney-Jones said that’s a product of them playing Los Angeles and Rio Grande Valley, the highest-scoring teams in the regular season that make games into offensive showcases.
We really lock down, defensively, McKinney-Jones said. I don’t think they’re really used to playing teams like us, who really play defense. We take pride in our defense. I think it’ll be a surprise to them, something they haven’t seen too much this season.
The Mad Ants defeated the Warriors 101-97 in the teams’ only game this season Jan. 6 in Reno, Nev.
Ron Howard had 28 points and McKinney-Jones had 25 in the win. Jones had 23 points for the Warriors.
The Warriors swept the Mad Ants in the first round of last year’s playoffs, winning 124-118 at Memorial Coliseum and 110-92 at Kaiser Permanente Arena.
The Mad Ants regret last year’s Game 1 loss because they squandered a lead in the fourth quarter. But it was a learning experience on how to close games.
The first game of last year’s series, we played well for 47 minutes, and then they took it from us in the last minute of the game, Rojas said. It’s just that in the fourth, we didn’t finish it off last year. You’ve got to know how to finish and last year, their bigs came out and dropped a lot of points on us.
This year, we’re a different team. We know how to win games now and we’ve shown that. At the beginning of this season, we were losing games. We’d blow it in the last 45 seconds, and we lost about five games like that. Over the last 20 games or so, we’ve closed out games. We know how to close out a game now.