The Mad Ants have proved in their first two games of the season that they know how to be resilient, how to make comebacks. What they still need to show is they can see it through to the end.
They lost 124-119 today to the Delaware Blue Coats, in Orlando, Florida, where the entire G League season is being played. Oshae Brissett had 21 points and 11 rebounds. Naz Mitrou-Long totaled 21 points and five assists (video highlights of him above).
The Mad Ants trailed 100-82 after Jared Brownridge's 3 pointer with 8:52 remaining, but they whittled away to get within one, at 114-113, when Devin Robinson got the put-back of a missed Mitrou-Long 3-pointer with 2:49 remaining and then hit a free throw at 1:59.
The Mad Ants (0-2) weren't able to tie or take the lead after that, though, and Brownridge finished with 28 points and six assists for the Blue Coats (1-0).
Rayjon Tucker added 22 points and Paul Reed 20 for Delaware.
“I felt down the stretch, and even (Wednesday) down the stretch, we were really focused on getting back in the game,” Brissett said. “There were times when they'd hit two 3s in a row and we could have hung our heads or whatever. But guys really dialed in, same thing as (in the 125-120 loss to Westchester). I feel like if we keep that mentality, and obviously play better, we'll have a better outcome.”
While the Blue Coats had been able to scout the Mad Ants' opening loss, Fort Wayne went in blind against Delaware because there wasn't even video of scrimmages available in the Orlando bubble.
“The way we fought in the second half was really good, really positive, especially coming off back-to-back (games). We probably ran out of gas there a little bit in the fourth quarter,” first-year Mad Ants coach Tom Hankins said. “It was their first game and not having the advantage to scout their team on video and see what their schemes are, it was like (Wednesday): Go out and use the first quarter, quarter and a half, to try and figure things out.”
Both teams shot well (48% for Delaware, 46% for Fort Wayne), and the Mad Ants' rebounding was much improved (they had a 46-42 edge), but the Blue Coats made 13 of 33 shots from beyond the arc and the Mad Ants were 6 of 28.
The Mad Ants have 13 games remaining in the regular season, starting 3 p.m. Saturday against Rio Grande Valley. The top eight of the 18 participating teams – 11 opted out – will make the single-elimination postseason.
Jalen Lecque had 15 points, Rayshaun Hammonds had 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Josh Gray had 12 points and five assists, as seven Mad Ants scored in double-figures.
“(Mitrou-Long) is kind of the one who led the charge as far as the comeback,” Hankins said. “He's a good leader and the whole team loves him and they love to be on the floor with him. So I thought today he was great.”
The early minutes were marked by the teams trading big plays, including Fort Wayne rookie Cassius Stanley converting a thunderous dunk and slithering through the lane for a scoop that cut Delaware's lead to 15-14. Stanley, the Indiana Pacers' second-round pick, finished with 11 points but suffered a foot injury.
Fort Wayne soon led 23-22, thanks to a Brissett layup, but the Blue Coats answered with a 13-0 run culminating with a 3-pointer by Tucker. Led by Reed's 13 points and Brownridge's 12, the Blue Coats led 53-48 at halftime.
Julian Washburn extended Delaware's lead to 62-52 by draining a 3-pointer with 10:31 remaining in the third quarter. Another Washburn 3 made it 71-61.
Fort Wayne went on a 17-7 run to tie it at 78 on Daxter Miles Jr.'s 3-pointer with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter. It didn't take long for the Blue Coats to respond, taking a 91-83 lead on Justin Robinson's 3-pointer 2:02 later.