FORT WAYNE – It wasn’t just the lack of chemistry/symmetry with the three newly acquired NBA players that begged for a guilty verdict in the Mad Ants’ 107-104 loss to Maine on Friday at Memorial Coliseum, but also the absence of one NBA guard.
With team assists leader and former Detroit Pistons point guard Walker Russell Jr. sitting out with a groin pull, leading scorer and shooting guard Ron Howard stepped in to replace Russell.
And although Howard had eight points – 14 below his average – and seven assists, the Ants were out of sync from the game’s beginning.
The loss dropped the Ants (2-7) a game further behind East Division-leading Maine (6-2) in the D-League standings. Plus it was also the Ants’ fifth loss in a row – a slide it hopes to stop when it faces Springfield tonight at the Coliseum.
The Ants appeared to have loaded up for its encounter with the Red Claws.
Two of the Ants’ NBA affiliates sent reinforcements. For the second time this season, the Indiana Pacers shipped 6-foot-11 forward Miles Plumlee to Fort Wayne. And the Pistons sent 6-7 forward Khris Middleton and 6-6 guard Kim English.
Including 6-10 JaJuan Johnson, who last season played with the Boston Celtics, four of the five Fort Wayne starters had NBA experience, with Howard being the fifth starter.
The story of the game was turnovers, without a doubt, Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. Twenty-seven turnovers, and every starter had a minimum of four.
Plumlee had five turnovers, and the other starters had four each.
The mistakes offset the 58-37 rebounding advantage the Ants had, and the fact that they were 19 of 19 from the free throw line.
Fort Wayne even held a 92-85 lead with 7:05 left before turnovers and missed shots allowed the Red Claws to roar back. Over the next 4 1/2 minutes, Maine outscored the Ants 16-4.
Still, there was fight left in the Ants. An over-and-back turnover by Maine with 13.2 seconds left gave the ball to Fort Wayne, which needed a three-pointer for a tie. But Middleton missed, and so did Howard, and so did English.
Some of them are because we’re not familiar with each other, Howard said of the 27 turnovers. We don’t know when to get the ball to the guy or what the other guy’s going to do. So some of it is a part of that, for sure. The other is you’ve got to give Maine credit for getting their hands on balls, getting deflections. With that combination, I expected us to have more than usual, but not this many.
Johnson had 24 points and 10 rebounds against the Red Claws, whose NBA affiliate is Boston. English had 24, as well, while Middleton had 19 points and Plumlee had 10 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Note: The game started 46 minutes late because officials had to replace a rim that broke when a Maine player dunked during pregame warm-ups.