The Mad Ants were without two of their best players – Trey McKinney-Jones and Olek Czyz – but they still gave the D-League’s only unbeaten team, the Idaho Stampede, fits Saturday night.
But Pierre Jackson, the league’s highest-scoring player, was too much to handle for Fort Wayne.
He made 14 of 20 shots and finished with 49 points, the most scored in the D-League this season, as Idaho defeated Fort Wayne 98-94 at Memorial Coliseum.
We are frustrated, said Ron Howard, who led Fort Wayne (1-5) with 20 points. We are in games, but I don’t know if that makes (the feeling) worse or makes it better. But it’s frustrating.
The Mad Ants had an early 12-point lead on the Stampede (8-0) after Ramon Harris’ dunk put them up 20-8 with 4:29 remaining in the first quarter.
The Stampede chipped away at the deficit with Jackson, the 5-foot-11 former Baylor star and MVP of last season’s NIT, leading the way, and Dallas Lauderdale’s dunk tied it at 37 with 3:59 remaining in the half.
Idaho built an 81-68 lead on a pair of Jackson free throws with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Fort Wayne got back within three, when Kyle Randall made a layup to cut the lead to 95-92 with 36 seconds left, but Jackson drew a foul on the ensuing possession, made a free throw and put a dagger in the comeback.
Jackson entered the game averaging 28.3 points.
We have a good team. But it’s about sustaining what we’re doing through the course of the game, said Howard, who had a game-best seven assists.
McKinney-Jones missed his second straight game with a back injury. Czyz missed his first with a knee injury. They had combined to average 27.6 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Fort Wayne’s Sadiel Rojas had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Bennie Lewis III had 13 points. Chris Porter and Chris Hunter both had 11 points, in front of 3,751 fans.
Richard Howell had 15 points for Idaho, Lauderdale had 12 and Fort Wayne native Reggie Hearn had six.
Hearn, who played at Snider and then Northwestern, had a cheering section of about 50 people to see his first professional game at the Coliseum.
It was awesome, Hearn said. I was little nervous going in. I knew I had a lot of people coming. My mom put a lot of work in to get a lot of people here. At the end of the day, we’re the last undefeated team in the D-League here. That’s something we’re proud of. We knew we had a bull’s-eye on our back and we wanted to come out with the win.