The Mad Ants got an early lead and didn’t succumb, defeating the Westchester Knicks 131-112 today at Memorial Coliseum.
It was Fort Wayne’s third straight victory and a divergence from the previous two, in which they rallied in the second halves from 35 points down to defeat the Canton Charge and from 14 down to beat Raptors 905.
Fort Wayne (16-15), which was led by Ben Moore’s 30 points and nine rebounds, has won seven of its last eight games, and 13 of 18, to go above .500 for the first time this season.
“Ben was awesome,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “I knew he was going to have a good game because his agent sat courtside, was right in front of us. It’s just one of the little things that go a long way.
"No, he had a great mindset.… He’s got to continue to be aggressive for us. Since we got him (Dec. 12), the winning percentage speaks for itself (as we’re 13-5 since then).”
The Mad Ants, who got off to a franchise-worst 1-8 start, are now one game back of Grand Rapids for the third and final wild-card spot in Eastern Conference with 19 games left in the regular season.
“I think we were moving the ball a lot on offense. It was really hopping. It wasn’t sticking to one side, so that really helped us out a lot,” said Moore, adding that the Mad Ants’ 35 assists (11 more than Westchester) showed the penchant for ball-sharing being a positive.
“It’s just camaraderie amongst each other. We really want to see each other shine, so we’re willing to give it up to get a better shot.”
Westchester (16-17) was paced by Ivan Rabb’s 25 points. Fishers native Zak Irvin had 15 points.
The Mad Ants play at 8 p.m. Friday against the Wisconsin Herd in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
While the Mad Ants had anticipated about 5,000 kids attending the 11 a.m. game as part of school trips for Education Day, inclement weather forced the closure of most area schools and that meant most of the students couldn’t attend. Attendance was announced as 4,842 but was actually in the hundreds.
“(On Wednesday), D.J. McCall, JaKeenan Gant and myself went to the Boys & Girls Club and just hung out with them. A lot of those kids were excited about coming to the game and it stunk that they couldn’t be there,” Gansey said, “especially when it’s 11 a.m. and (you want) 5,000 kids to help wake our players (after) we’ve had a film session at 8 a.m., which is tough. It’s always great for these kids to look up to role models like D.J. McCall.”
Kids who were supposed to attend the game but couldn’t are able to attend a future Mad Ants game and get a food coupon. Questions can be directed to the Mad Ants’ office at 260-469-4667.
Naz Mitrou-Long, who hadn’t played since Dec. 13 because of an ankle injury, returned to the Fort Wayne lineup. Mitrou-Long is on a two-way contract with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, who kept Alize Johnson with Fort Wayne for a third straight game.
Mitrou-Long had seven points and six assists.
“He’s important, his leadership and his voice, offensively and defensively,” Gansey said. “Just talking and getting guys in the right spots, sharing the ball, guys like playing with Naz. He had a minute restriction and had play under 20 minutes; it was getting him comfortable and confident and he did a good job.”
Johnson had 18 points and seven rebounds, missing a triple- or double-double for the first time in his 11 G League games this season.
The Mad Ants led by as many as nine in the first half and possessed a 64-59 halftime lead, paced by Moore’s 17 points and Johnson’s 10.
The Mad Ants started to pull away when a Johnson 3-pointer was followed by a C.J. Wilcox steal to set up Daxter Miles Jr. for a layup, a foul and an 89-81 lead with 2:33 remaining in the third quarter.
Stephan Hicks’ drive down the baseline, to set up a dish to Moore for a basket, put the Mad Ants up 103-91 with 9:15 remaining and it was followed by a Wilcox 3 for a 15-point lead.
A Moore steal set up a fast break with Wilcox that ended with a Moore layup and a 110-95 lead with 7:06 remaining.
Miles and Brian Bowen II each had 16 points. Wilcox added 12.