The Mad Ants’ starting lineup featured five players with NBA experience – Goga Bitadze, Alize Johnson, Brian Bowen II, Walt Lemon Jr. and C.J. Wilcox – and it showed.
They defeated the Delaware Blue Coats 136-102 today in front of an announced crowd of 2,460 at Memorial Coliseum.
The Mad Ants led by as many as 41, bettering their previous largest lead of the season – 33 against South Bay on Jan. 25.
“We jumped out of the gate and got out in transition, got some good stops. I think that’s what really got us going, getting some good stops,” said Brian Bowen II, who had 17 points and six rebounds. “We were locking in on the defensive end. They had a few offensive rebounds at the beginning that we weren’t happy with, so we tried to turn that around in the second half and get going. Everybody did their role and we played well.”
The Mad Ants (17-16) have won 8 of their last 10 games, and 14 of their last 20, and are two games back of Grand Rapids for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 17 games remaining in the regular season.
Fort Wayne plays host to Atlantic Division-leading Maine at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Coliseum.
Bitadze, the NBA’s Indiana Pacers’ first-round draft pick last year, was sent to Fort Wayne for his fourth G League games of the season. He totaled 24 points and 11 rebounds.
“I thought he was good. A little rusty,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “You’ve got to think that when he plays with the Pacers, he plays just some spot minutes, no more than maybe 8 minutes and plays 3 or 4 minutes at a time. That’s tough. Then he comes down here and plays a lot of minutes (34:05) and would have played more in a closer game.
“He needs to come down here and play as hard as he can. He’s going to make some mistakes. He came up to me after the game and said, ‘What’s up with my layups?’ That’s just playing, having that touch and having that feel around the basket.”
Alize Johnson was also down from the Pacers for a 13th game of the season and had 16 points and 13 rebounds.
The Mad Ants opened the game strongly, taking a 24-13 lead on Ben Moore’s 3-pointer from the corner, which was set up by a Bitadze touch pass.
Moore’s layup with 2:41 remaining in the first quarter put Fort Wayne up 33-17. Naz Mitrou-Long, who didn’t play in Friday’s 127-119 road loss to Wisconsin because he’s still on a minutes restriction from his ankle injury, drew a charge and then scored on a step-back jumper on the ensuing possession for a 58-48 Fort Wayne lead with 3:00 left in the second quarter.
And Moore’s pass to set up a Bitadze baseline dunk made it 65-50 with 21 seconds left in the half.
A Mitrou-Long 3 made it 81-56 with 5:49 left in the third quarter.
Daxter Miles Jr. had 22 points for Fort Wayne.
Delaware (18-14) was paced by Justin Robinson’s 20 points.