FORT WAYNE – This is the way the night went for the Mad Ants.
With the third quarter game clock running toward zeros, Ants forward Brandon Wallace slithered through the lane and, with 1.1 seconds left, finger-rolled a layup from a foot away that bounded off the rim once, then twice, and was about to drop.
But from the right side of the rim came the hand of 6-foot-10 Tommy Smith, who jammed the ball home as the horn sounded.
No bucket. And Ants coach Duane Ticknor’s shoulders nearly dropped to the floor.
For much of Friday night’s 125-103 victory, Rio Grande Valley’s timely offensive rebounds played a big part of the Vipers’ offense.
And now, during the final phase of the third period, when it was the Ants’ chance, they ran out of time.
Huge, Ticknor said of the basket that wasn’t. It deflated us – not just us, but the whole building.
The building had 5,121 souls in it – many there for Report Card Night and others dressed as Darth Vader, since it was also Star Wars Night.
On this particular Friday, Luke, perhaps more than anyone, didn’t have the force.
Already slowed by a knee injury, leading scorer (21.2) and rebounder (12.7) Luke Harangody left the floor with 9 minutes remaining in the third quarter and never returned.
Ticknor said he didn’t expect the 6-foot-8 forward, who finished with four points and six rebounds, to make the trip to Iowa for tonight’s game with the Energy.
With the missed third quarter opportunity still fresh, salt was added to the stinging wound when the Vipers, in their first possession of the fourth period, missed a dunk, got the rebound and converted two free throws that shot the Rio lead to 19.
The Ants (14-17) never threatened after that. It was the second consecutive home loss for Fort Wayne, which lost to Sioux Falls two nights earlier.
They’re pretty darn good, Ticknor said of the Central Division-leading Vipers (18-10).
Rio Grande Valley made that point known early when it raced to a 9-0 lead. But the Ants kept at it and chipped away behind a small lineup to catch the Vipers and go ahead 32-31 on a pair of free throws from Doron Lamb, who scored 18 points.
Ticknor remembers the rest: We had two quarters where we didn’t finish. We caught them at 45-45, and they went on a (10)-2 run to end the half.
The Ants got within 62-57 but that was answered by an 11-0 Rio run.
I thought our effort level was there early, Ticknor said. We just didn’t stay consistent at the defensive end.
Tony Mitchell led Fort Wayne with 27 points, and Ron Howard had 20.
Note: After the game, it was announced the Pacers had recalled rookie center Miles Plumlee.