Maybe, just maybe, the Mad Ants are hitting their stride.
Paced by Naz Mitrou-Long’s 27 points and nine rebounds, they defeated the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 113-111 today.
Brian Bowen II added 20 points and 12 rebounds for Fort Wayne.
For Fort Wayne (2-8), it was a second victory in the last four games, including one near miss in Friday’s 108-105 loss to the Texas Legends.
An announced attendance of 1,302 was on hand at Memorial Coliseum to see the Mad Ants face the defending-champion Vipers (2-9), who have a vastly different roster than last season.
A Stephan Hicks block of an Angel Rodriguez shot set up a give-and-go with Fort Wayne-native D.J. McCall that ended with Hicks slithering through the paint for a layup and a 99-91 lead with 8:43 left in the fourth quarter.
And Mitrou-Long’s long-range jumper made it 103-96 with 5:59 left.
And Mitrou-Long set up JaKeenan Gant for a thunderous dunk with 3:54 left for a 107-102 lead.
The Vipers got back within 1 and were looking to take the lead when McCall took a charge from Brandon Sampson with 31 seconds remaining. But the Vipers then forced a turnover and Jaron Blossomgame got to the free throw line but missed two with 8 seconds left, with Hicks coming up with the pivotal rebound.
Blossomgame and Sampson had 20 points apiece.
The Mad Ants opened the game on a 17-5 run, culminating with a Brian Bowen II 3-pointer with 8:50 left in the first quarter. It didn’t last long; Rio Grande Valley’s Ray Spalding converted a layup with 1:09 left in the quarter for a 32-31 lead.
Rio Grande Valley’s Jacobi Boykins’ 3-pointer with 7:03 remaining in the second quarter put the Vipers up 46-34.
It was tied at halftime at 56, thanks to a pair of free throws by Fort Wayne’s Mitrou-Long.
Wilcox had 18 points in the half, on 6-of-8 shooting, all of it from beyond the arc.
A Wilcox 3-pointer put Fort Wayne up 68-63 with 8:40 left in the third quarter. And Wilcox’s no-look pass to Gant for a layup made it 82-77.
Notes: Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers’ star recovering from a knee injury, will be back with the Mad Ants for practices Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mad Ants then play 7 p.m. Thursday at Erie, Pennsylvania. … Gant was back in the Fort Wayne lineup after missing four games with a concussion. … Travin Thibodeaux was back after missing a game with an ankle injury. … Ike Nwamu sat out with a back injury.