FORT WAYNE – The heartburn question was whether the Mad Ants could live off their 17-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
It was a legitimate concern, considering that, in the third quarter, East Division-leading Canton had whittled a dozen points off the Ants’ giddy 29-point halftime bulge. And with the Charge not slowing down at the start of the fourth, they had climbed to within 12 points with 6:15 remaining.
But a tourniquet to stop the bleeding came in the form of seven straight Fort Wayne points, and the Ants (19-19) held on for dear life and a dearer 115-102 win Tuesday at Memorial Coliseum.
The victory returned the Mad Ants to .500 for the first time since Jan. 18, when they were 11-11. Additionally, it put them 3 1/2 games out of first place behind Canton (22-15) and two games behind Erie and Maine in the chase for the final spot in the D-League playoffs.
I’m more worried about how far we’re behind the people ahead of us, Ants coach Duane Ticknor said of reaching the .500 plateau. Obviously it’s a big step. We haven’t been there since mid-January.
As the night turned out, the Ants rode the wave of their spectacular first half, and more specifically, a second quarter in which they outscored Canton 36-12.
With an 18-1 run that lasted five minutes, spearheaded by Tony Mitchell’s nine points, the Mad Ants turned a 34-31 game into a 52-32 runaway.
And by halftime, the lead was 70-41.
That was a phenomenal first half, Ticknor said. To score 70 points in the half and, more importantly, hold them to 41 and 12 points in the second quarter – that was our best defensive effort of any quarter all year long.
Forward Anthony Richardson, who added 16 points, agreed with his coach.
It’s like we just decided to do it altogether, and we did it, Richardson said. We played defense like that before, but not to that magnitude for that long.
But the Charge did exactly that and got within the 12 points.
That’s part of basketball, Richardson said. Basketball is a game of runs and mistakes. As long as you can keep those at a minimum, you’ve got a good chance of winning the game.
Mitchell led the Ants with 27 points and Ron Howard had 26. Also getting 16 was Luke Harangody, who returned after missing six games with a sore knee.
It feels all right, Harangody said. I’m still not a hundred percent, and I still have things I can’t do out there, but it’s going to be a process. No pain; there’s still a lot of strengthening.