FORT WAYNE – Of the eight losses in the 11 games the Mad Ants have played this season, Tuesday’s 97-81 defeat to Canton was particularly noteworthy.
This was probably the most disappointing loss of the season, without a doubt, a somber coach Duane Ticknor said.
With three players assigned from NBA affiliates making their final Memorial Coliseum appearance before returning to their respective teams, the Ants hoped to win the final two games of a brief three-game home stand.
It was an opportunity to post a two-game streak before the team plays 10 of its next 13 games on the road – a period that begins at Maine on Friday and ends with a Jan. 27 game at Erie.
Instead, the Ants allowed Canton to erase a 54-52 deficit with a 14-0 third-quarter run for a 17-point lead.
Here’s the rub, though: With the starters sitting out, including NBA-assigned Miles Plumlee (Indiana Pacers) and Kim English and Khris Middleton (Detroit Pistons), the reserves got to within five, only to have the reinserted starters get outplayed down the stretch.
Our second unit got us back in the game, Ticknor said. They played their tails off. We had guys who thought all they had to do was show up. It started at shoot-around this morning and carried over into tonight. The energy level from some of our guys was real low. Mentally we just weren’t in the basketball game. I was real disappointed with that aspect of it.
I apologized to our second unit, Ticknor said. They just kind of ran out of gas. They played like 10 straight minutes. I had to give them a blow; otherwise I would have left them in there. They deserved to be on the floor. We just didn’t have a choice there; they were just out of juice.
Spearheaded by Ron Howard, Sadiel Rojas, Tony Mitchell, Mike Anderson and Chris Porter, the Ants finished the third quarter on a 7-0 run, then got within 78-73 on Howard’s 10-footer from the right baseline off a Porter screen with 7:38 left.
It’s difficult for both sides, Howard said. It’s difficult for those (NBA) guys to come in on the fly and jell with us, and it’s difficult for us to jell. The lineups are different; things like that.
With 6:05 still left and Canton ahead 80-73, the starting unit of the three NBA players along with JaJuan Johnson and Walker Russell Jr. came in.
Nineteen seconds later, Plumlee was called for an illegal screen, giving Canton the ball. Then English fouled and turned the ball over. By the time Plumlee and Middleton missed shots, Canton (6-5) was in front 84-73, and the Ants couldn’t get closer.
JaJuan Johnson led the Ants with 17 points – 13 in the first half. English had 15, and Mitchell added 10.
Former Wisconsin center Jon Leuer led Canton with 20 points.