Russ Smith scored 43 points – just off Tony Mitchell’s franchise record of 49 set in 2013 – and led the Mad Ants on a furious comeback from 24 points down in the third quarter, but they came up just short and lost 103-94 to Raptors 905 in front of an announced crowd of 1,577 at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night.
Smith, who played 27 NBA games for New Orleans and Memphis between 2014 and 2016, hadn’t played in nine months – when he was in China – and converted 15 of 30 shots. It was Smith’s first G League game since 2017 with Delaware and he’d practiced only twice with the Mad Ants.
All but eight of Smith’s points came in the second half.
“I’m happy. I wish we could have pulled it out because that would have made the story that much better,” Smith said. “But I’m glad that Fort Wayne and the Mad Ants gave me an opportunity to perform and then to be with this group of guys – it’s crazy because I’m a little bit older (at 30) and these guys are younger – they really supported me and cheered me on and that gave me an element of confidence.”
Terry Taylor added 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Mad Ants, who got 10 points from Gabe York.
The Raptors were paced by Obadiah Noel’s 28 points.
The Mad Ants hadn’t played at the Coliseum since Dec. 11 and their roster changed much over that time: franchise greats Walt Lemon Jr. and Stephan Hicks returned, along with Smith and Fort Wayne-native D.J. McCall, while Justin Anderson, Keifer Sykes and Duane Washington Jr. moved to the NBA, amid other transactions.
The NBA’s Indiana Pacers sent Taylor and Nate Hinton back to the Mad Ants early Thursday, and they were recalled after the game.
This was considered the start of the regular season, after the Mad Ants went 9-5 in the Showcase Cup season, and they are now 0-1 with 31 remaining games to qualify for the playoffs – including eight “home games” at the Coliseum and another five at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“Win or lose, I love the group of guys we have here so far,” Smith said. “I’m just thankful to be on a team like this.”
The Mad Ants play host to the Raptors at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Coliseum.