Mad Ants forward Darnell Lazare sat on the bench in the locker room taping ice packs to his knees. His voice was low, his words measured.
Lazare and the Mad Ants had just delivered a nominee for worst NBA D-League performance of the year, a 118-87 loss to the Springfield Armor on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum. Ants coach Steve Gansey called the team's first-half play “unacceptable” and said every player was to blame for surrendering 73 points in the first two quarters.
Lazare was singled out by Gansey, in response to a reporter's question, for failing to get back on a fast break after he thought he'd been fouled.
His knees iced, his pride wounded, Lazare pointed the finger at himself.
“Me being the captain of this team, one of the leaders, I shouldn't give up on a play like that,” Lazare said. “It was a frustrating moment for me, and a mistake on my part.”
Lazare will be the Mad Ants' only representative in the D-League All-Star game later this month. But his play was far below par on Sunday. He hit only 3-of-10 shots, scored seven points and had more fouls (six) than rebounds (three).
The Ants have lost five straight games, fallen to 10-21 and slipped into that no man's land where playoff hopes are thin and tension is mounting.
With Ron Howard out again with a hand injury, Lazare is the team's most experienced player. There's a burden there that causes frustration to mount.
“It's tough,” Lazare said. “I'm not a loser. I'm used to winning. I'm used to being competitive. Today was one of those days where we didn't shoot the ball well as a team. But even in spite of what the team did, I hold myself to a certain standard and I didn't deliver.”
Springfield (18-13) built a 14-point first quarter lead, increased it to 32 by halftime and put it into cruise control. Gansey challenged his players at halftime to play with more pride and more purpose. To a degree, it happened. The Ants outscored Springfield 46-45 in the second half. Recently added guard Devan Downey scored 20 points with nine assists and four steals in the best individual performance.
Still, the poor play of the first half was impossible to forget.
The Ants will have three days of practice before returning to the coliseum to play Erie on Thursday.
Gansey threatened to get rid of players who fail to show the needed effort as the team tries to move forward.
“We basically challenged these guys and said if you bring that effort like we did in the first half, you guys won't be here,” Gansey said. “There are guys who want to be here in this league. Guys that show that kind of effort don't need to be here. We don't need them.”
Lazare understands the coach's frustration. He feels it as surely as the wear on knees from almost three months of pounding the court.
“We lost a game by a huge margin and the only thing we can do is go to work,” Lazare said. “It's going to be tough. This is a tough stretch coming up. We have some guys banged up, we have a couple new guys to integrate. There are a lot of variables, but you still want to come out and compete and give yourself a chance to win. We didn't do that tonight, and that starts with me.”
“I'll take responsibility on this one,” he said. “I'll take that lick and get back to the gym and work on turning it around.”
SPRINGFIELD 118, MAD ANTS 87
Springfield 32 41 19 26 – 118
Fort Wayne 18 23 26 20 – 87
Springfield: Williams 6-8 0-1 14, Horner 6-11 5-5 17, Foote 8-10 7-11 23, Curry 5-11 2-2 16, Smith 5-16 2-2 15, Hurdle 4-13 2-2 12, Knowles 3-9 0-0 9, Spates 3-4 1-1 7, Johnson 2-5 1-1 5. Totals 42-87 20-25 118.
Fort Wayne: Jones 7-16 1-2 15, Lazare 3-10 1-2 7, Tisdale 1-4 0-0 2, Walton 1-4 2-4 4, Downey 9-17 2-4 20, Sonderleiter 2-4 4-4 8, Rojas 4-12 6-8 14, Brown 4-7 4-6 14, Baudinet 1-6 0-0 3. Totals: 32-80 20-30 87.
Three-point goals: S/14-37 (Curry 4-7, Knowles 3-7, Smith 3-9, Williams 2-3, Hurdle 2-9, Horner 0-1, Spates 0-1), FW/3-12 (Brown 2-4, Baudinet 1-4, Jones 0-1, Rojas 0-1, Downey 0-2). Rebounds: S/51 (Horner 9, Foote 9), FW/33 (Rojas 11). Assists: S/24 (Smith 5, Hurdle 5), FW/16 (Downey 9). Steals: S/11 (Knowles 3), FW/8 (Downey 4). Blocks: S/6, FW/0. Total fouls: S/26, FW/25. Turnovers: S/15, FW/18. Technical fouls: S/Smith. Attendance: 3,706.