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Ants beat Texas in home finale

Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor talks after the 109-85 victory over Texas on Sunday.

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne’s Anthony Harris lifts a shot over Texas’ Vernon Lewis during Sunday’s regular-season home finale at Memorial Coliseum. Harris scored 13 points in the Mad Ants’ victory.

Mad Ants close in on playoff berth

For the first five years immediately after the Mad Ants’ final regular-season home games – win or lose – rectangle bits of confetti littered the floor while Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” blared throughout Memorial Coliseum. Except for the 2010-11 season, when the Ants had a brief chance to qualify for the D-League playoffs (they didn’t), there wasn’t much to celebrate other than the end of a frustrating season.

With Kool’s R&B anthem blasting and the familiar maroon and gold confetti strewn about, the Ants ended their regular-season home schedule with a 109-85 drubbing of Texas on Sunday. But this year, maybe a celebration will be in order.

The victory – the team’s third in a row and 10th in their last 13 games – strengthened the Ants’ (26-22) hopes of making the NBA D-League playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Two games remain in the Ants’ regular season. They play at Sioux Falls on Friday and at Tulsa on Saturday.

Fort Wayne, currently seventh in the standings, is a half game behind Austin and Tulsa, who are tied for the No. 5 seed with 26-21 records. The Ants are a game ahead of Maine (25-23), and a game and a half ahead of Sioux Falls and Erie – each 24-23. Eight teams make the playoffs.

“Basically, the Sioux Falls game is a playoff game,” Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “That’s the way we look at it. If we beat them, then we’re in.”

Playoff matchups won’t be determined until Sunday. The three division leaders (Bakersfield in the West, Rio Grande Valley in the Central and Canton in the East, in that order) will choose their opponents in the best-of-three first round. Santa Cruz could overtake Bakersfield in the West Division, thereby claiming the No. 1 choice. The way the Ants are playing, they might not be a wise choice.

“I think we’re playing our best basketball at the right time of year,” said Anthony Richardson, who, along with Chris Porter, led the team with 17 points Sunday. “This is the perfect time to be playing the way we’re playing. You can’t ask for anything more. It’s working out perfect for us.”

With the 6-foot-9 Richardson being guarded from the beginning by eight-year NBA veteran Delonte West (6-4), Richardson scored nine points to help the Ants to a 31-17 first-quarter lead.

“We didn’t know exactly how they would match up, but that’s just us playing basketball,” Richardson said. “We saw a mismatch, a smaller guy, and we tried to take advantage of it. No science; just basketball.”

Ticknor also saw the beginning as a statement.

“We thought the start of the game was really important, just to let them know how this game meant something to us and it really didn’t mean anything to them,” Ticknor said. “So we set the tone early. I thought our starting group came out and was just dynamite the first quarter, and we maintained it the whole game.”

Tony Mitchell had 16 for the Mad Ants, while Brandon Wallace had 15, and Anthony Harris scored 13.

stwarden@jg.net

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