The Mad Ants played with a lot of energy – a festive crowd of 5,553 certainly helped at Memorial Coliseum – but they couldn’t sustain their early success for the entire game, losing 121-118 tonight to the Grand Rapids Drive in the final game of the season.
Alize Johnson totaled 34 points, the most of his rookie season, and added 11 rebounds for his 23rd double-double in 31 games with the Mad Ants. The previous scoring high for Johnson, a second-round draft pick of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, was 31 points.
The Mad Ants finished their 12th season, and fourth under the ownership of the Pacers, with a 23-27 record. It’s only the second time since 2011-12 they’ve been below .500, including their 20-30 record in 2015-16.
However, this season’s team was comprised of almost all first- and second-year players.
For their season finale, the Mad Ants had a full complement of players, including all three of their Indiana Pacers prospects, Johnson, Edmond Sumner and Davon Reed, along with Stephan Hicks who had his first NBA stint with the Pacers earlier in the season.
A large crowd was on hand – big enough that the Mad Ants needed to open up the 600-level seats for the only time this season – and it saw Rob Gray score 22 points.
Alize Johnson had a monstrous first quarter, making 6 of 10 shots for 19 points, as the Mad Ants built a 40-32 lead. Johnson came in to the night averaging 18.8 points and 13.6 rebounds in 30 games, plus he’s played 11 games with the Pacers.
With Johnson resting, Fort Wayne’s other big man, Travin Thibodeaux, drained a shot from the top of the key for a 48-36 lead with 10:20 left in the second quarter.
The Drive would soon tie it, but Fort Wayne’s Ike Nwamu converted a 3-pointer with 5:12 left in the quarter for a 57-54 lead. The Drive went on another run, taking a 68-65 lead on a Dakarai Allen reverse layup with 3:03 left in the second quarter.
The Drive led 78-70 at halftime – it was the most points Fort Wayne gave up in a half all season – but the Mad Ants tied it at 98 when Sumner’s lob from half court led to an alley-oop dunk for Hicks with 2:12 remaining in the third quarter.
Grand Rapids (28-22) was led by Isaiah Whitehead's 31 points, including a layup for a 119-105 lead with 5:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. Fort Wayne cut the deficit to three points on a Gray step-back jump shot with 52 seconds left.
The Mad Ants had a chance to tie it, inbounding the ball with 5.5 seconds left, after a Sumner shot block, but Sumner missed a shot at the buzzer after he lost control of the ball.
The Mad Ants had won three of their previous four games.