Back and forth the Mad Ants and Rio Grande Valley Vipers went for just over 2 hours today.
There were 15 lead changes before the Mad Ants emerged victorious, 119-115 at AdventHealth Arena in Orlando, Florida, where Fort Wayne’s Jalen Lecque had 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
“Every game, it’s about getting better and better,” said Lecque, who has five games of NBA experience with the Phoenix Suns. “With the team supporting me and being aggressive, we were just making plays and I was able to cash out.”
(Video highlights of Lecque's game are above.)
Unlike their first two games, which were also contests of shifting momentum, the Mad Ants (1-2) didn’t run out of steam in the fourth quarter.
Down eight entering the period, Rayshaun Hammonds’ baseline drive propelled Fort Wayne to a 100-98 lead. Josh Gray, who totaled 23 points on 11-of-16 shooting, slithered through the lane for a scoop-and-score to give the Mad Ants a 107-101 lead with 5:36 remaining in the game.
They never trailed again, though Rio Grande Valley’s Kevin Porter Jr. had a chance to win it with a 3-point attempt that fell short with 7 seconds left. Porter had 27 points and eight assists. The Vipers' Kenyon Martin Jr. had 30 points and 11 rebounds.
The Mad Ants, who face Austin 3:30 p.m. Monday, in the fourth game of their 15-game single-site regular season, credited their improved defense for the victory.
“Yeah, just the lock-in with us,” Lecque said. “We had to work on our defense a lot and just rebound because we’re not the biggest team. We all had to rebound, the guards included, and just get stops and be disciplined.”
Fort Wayne outshot Rio Grande Valley, 47% to 46%, and outrebounded it 55-41, with Naz Mitrou-Long scoring 19 points, Brian Bowen II accruing 14 points and 8 rebounds, Hammonds totaling 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Oshae Brissett getting 10 points and 14 rebounds. But the Vipers (1-3) made 14 of 46 from beyond the arc to Fort Wayne’s 9 of 25.
“For a new team that’s fresh and new together, it’s really difficult, if you’re not making shots, to stay together,” said Mad Ants coach Tom Hankins, after being doused with freezing bottled water to celebrate his first professional victory. “The fact that we made some shots and (with) Jalen getting it started (with four early baskets), it’s amazing what that does for everybody on the floor. And the guys on the bench, when they come into the game, then they’ve got a lot more confidence, a lot more juice.”
Lecque scored 12 of Fort Wayne’s first 14 points and a Gray drive gave the Mad Ants a 30-24 lead with 2:05 remaining in the first quarter. The Vipers tied it at 30, thanks to a Porter floater, but Fort Wayne went on another run for a 39-32 lead on a Hammonds layup with 9:25 left in the second quarter. The Vipers followed suit with an 11-2 run for a 43-41 lead capped by a Martin dunk.
Rio Grande Valley led 63-55 at halftime, paced by Porter’s 15 points. Fort Wayne had 14 from Lecque and 12 from Gray at the break.
The back-and-forth game continued; Brissett’s put-back gave the Mad Ants a 79-70 lead with 6:10 remaining in the third quarter. The Vipers took an 89-84 lead on Armoni Brooks’ shot from beyond the arc, at the end of a 19-5 run.
Note: The Mad Ants’ Cassius Stanley, who averaged 16 points in the first two games, didn’t play because of a foot injury. Stanley is a rookie, second-round pick of the Indiana Pacers.