The Mad Ants had one of the G League’s top teams on the ropes, but the Maine Red Claws rallied from 13 points down in the third quarter to beat Fort Wayne 123-119 in overtime Tuesday.
“We wanted that game. I wanted it really bad. The players wanted it really bad,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “But when you play tough teams … it comes down to playing smart basketball from the beginning of the tip. I’d like to take a lot of possessions back, but that’s the basketball, that’s the basketball world. The basketball gods weren’t on our side, but I’ve got to do a better job of putting these guys in better situations.”
An announced crowd of 1,911 was on hand at Memorial Coliseum, where Fort Wayne took an 80-67 lead on Stephan Hicks’ layup with 6:21 remaining in the third quarter. The Mad Ants remained up 13 at 92-79 when Daxter Miles Jr. polished off an alley-oop with 1:14 left in the quarter.
After the Atlantic Division-leading Red Claws rallied, Fort Wayne’s Walt Lemon Jr., who had 27 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds, gave his team a 116-114 lead on a drive with 37 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Maine’s Kaiser Gates was fouled on a 3-point attempt by Ben Moore – a call that was upheld after a coach’s challenge – and he made 2 of 3 free throws to tie it at 116 and force overtime.
“I thought we should have finished it in regulation,” Gansey said, “up until we foul a 3-point shooter. But that’s not (what decided) the game.”
In overtime, Maine took the lead for good on Tremont Waters’ layup to make it 118-116.
Lemon went cold in extra time and missed all five shots he had, including a reverse layup with 13 seconds left that could have tied it at 121.
“He was the one who had a good game,” Gansey said. “I’m going to keep going to Walt. I trust him and we’ve got to find a way to pull that one off.”
C.J. Wilcox had 24 points, including 7-of-13 shooting from 3-point range, and he paced Fort Wayne early with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting as it trailed 27-24 after one quarter.
Maine led 60-58 at halftime, but Goga Bitadze had nine points in Fort Wayne’s 34-22 third-quarter run to seemingly take control.
Bitadze, on assignment from the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, totaled 13 points and seven rebounds. The Pacers’ Alize Johnson had 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Stephan Hicks added 16 points for Fort Wayne (17-17), which lost for only the third time in the last 11 games and the seventh time in the last 21.
“The basketball gods were against us tonight,” Gansey said. “It’s tough, these ones, but we battle through it. Earlier in the year, we’re getting blown out by 25. Those games aren’t fun. These games are fun because it puts your players in situations, and it puts me in situations, where you’ve got to be ready to execute. It’s great we’re getting this experience because it’s going to be a dogfight to get into the playoffs here to finish.”
Maine (24-9) was paced by Jaysean Paige’s 27 points. Waters had 22 points. Yante Maten had 21, Gates 18 and Tacko Fall 12 with 14 rebounds.