Minutes after the Mad Ants' 33-point loss at Erie on Sunday, coach Duane Ticknor pulled out a garbage can in the locker room.
“This is where that game goes,” Ticknor told his players.
No review. No film. No looking back. The loss at Erie marked the end of a challenging January stretch where the Ants played 10 road games (including two at the NBA D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev.) and won six of those road games.
Ticknor wasn't about to let one lousy game spoil a month of progress.
The Ants are 7-4 in January, a franchise-best for the month and remarkable under the circumstances. Now, they're returning home for four of their next five, starting against Maine at 7 tonight in Memorial Coliseum.
“It's a great thing,” forward Luke Harangody said. “I didn't know we played home games anymore. It's been a long month, us being on the road, but a lot of positives came out of it.”
The Ants (12-14) found their chemistry as a team, altered just a bit the last week with point guard Ron Howard out with a knee injury. He's expected by this weekend, if not tonight.
Harangody, the former Notre Dame standout, has emerged as the team's most reliable numbers guy, boosting his season averages to 20.8 points and 13.4 rebounds per game. Those marks rank third and first, respectively, among players who have played at least 10 D-League games this season.
Fort Wayne's 15 road games were the most of any team in the league heading into this week.
“Being on the road, that's where a team really comes together,” Harangody said. “A long trip like that, we learned a lot about each other. We had some ups and some downs as well. Now we were able to get back and break it down and practice, which is a good thing.”
Anthony Richardson, who joined the Mad Ants the same time as Harangody, said the team learned to demonstrate toughness playing so many away from home.
“You have to be physically and mentally tough,” Richardson said. “That last road game, we played like we weren't mentally tough enough, we looked mentally fatigued and they took advantage of it.”
The return to the coliseum should help boost the team back to the level it was playing most of the road trip, Richardson said.
“It's definitely an advantage,” he said. “A lot of teams in the D-League don't have fan support like we have. It's definitely an advantage with the crowd and the atmosphere. Playing at home gives you a little more toughness.”
Ticknor said he hopes the team doesn't “relax” because it's playing at home. Maine (17-10) and Canton (17-10) are tied for the East Division lead, 4.5 games ahead of Fort Wayne.
The Ants play Maine at home tonight, then travel to Canton on Saturday before returning home to play Canton on Monday.
“This is an important stretch of the season,” Ticknor said. “We're in the 10th spot and we need to get in the Top 8 (to make the playoffs). I feel we need to go 15-9 or 14-10 to be in contention.
“We're playing Maine and Canton these next three games. If we don't come prepared, we'll get throttled. We've got to get back to the way we were playing earlier and, hopefully, the home cooking will do that for us.”