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The Journal Gazette

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Alize Johnson of the Mad Ants boxes out Mychal Mulder of the Bulls during the fourth quarter at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Stephan Hicks of the Mad Ants reverse dunks the ball against the Windy City Bulls during the third quarter at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Stephan Hicks of the Mad Ants reverse dunks the ball against the Windy City Bulls during the third quarter at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Tra-Deon Hollins, left, and, Jared Sam cheer on their teammate, Je’lon Hornbreak after he drains another 3-pointer during the fourth quarter against the Windy City Bulls at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Omari Johnson of the Mad Ants pulls up for a 3-point shot during the second quarter against the Windy City Bulls at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Rob Gray of the Mad Ants drives against the Windy City Bulls during the second quarter at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Elijah Stewart of the Mad Ants dunks against the Windy City Bulls during the fourth quarter at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Davon Reed of the Mad Ants hits an open teammate with a pass during the second quarter against the Bulls on Saturday night at Memorial Coliseum.

  • Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette Je’lon Hornbreak of the Mad Ants drives up the court during the second quarter against the Windy City Bulls at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

Saturday, December 01, 2018 11:30 pm

On Mad Ants' Hornbeak, defensive improvement

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

I naturally assumed that Rob Gray would be the player to assume Tra-Deon Hollins’ spot in the starting lineup tonight for the Mad Ants, after the way he'd soaked up playing time the previous two games.

The joke was on me.

Je’lon Hornbeak got the first start of his two-season professional career and he was pretty darned good in the Mad Ants’ 98-77 victory: six points, eight assists, one turnover, 36 minutes and 15 seconds of play with Hollins sitting out with a knee injury.

Oh, and Hornbeak's defense was good as Fort Wayne went from its worst defensive performance – a 136-116 loss to Raptors 905 on Thursday – to its best. It was two points off the franchise mark for stinginess against Canton from 2012-13.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense because we know that’s what it takes to win games,” Hornbeak said. “That’s what we all want to do here – win and get to a better basketball position In order to do that, we all have to win. In order to win, we all have to play defense.”

I’ll have more on Hornbeak in the coming days, so I don’t want to spoil it here, but you have to root for guys like this. When he landed with the Mad Ants in 2017, he was billed as a 3-point shooter. He’s now carved a niche as a patient, do-anything player.

“It took what? Two years (for my first start)?” Hornbeak said with a laugh. “Nah, it’s a blessing. I got the go-ahead yesterday that I would be starting. I was just trying to get my mindset right because I wanted to win, No. 1, but I also wanted to play good. I wasn’t really nervous, but I was just really eager to get out there.”

So how was the defense different tonight for the Ants?

“Communication, that was No. 1, we talked how that needed to be better (after our game) against the Raptors,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “Especially going against a team like Windy City, which slips a lot of screens and they set them, communication is really huge and I was really happy with how we responded defensively.”

jcohn@jg.net