The fans got their Will Sheehey moments when he punctuated his Fort Wayne Mad Ants debut with a sweet outside shot and a two-handed dunk.These were fans he'd already won over, during his time playing for Indiana University, so they roared with preordained approval. But, make no mistake, he earned the cheers again.
Sheehey's fourth-quarter burst of energy wasn't enough to take down the Iowa Energy, as the Mad Ants lost 103-94 on Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.
In fact, this was a lousy game for the Mad Ants (17-12), who had won nine of 10 coming into the night. They play at Maine on Saturday."Pretty ugly," leading scorer Andre Emmett said. "We'd take winning nine of 11 anytime, but to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we have to clean things up. Hopefully, we don't have any more games like that. We'll brush it off and get back at it."
This game might not mean much a month from now, in terms of the loss.
But if Sheehey is able to add another level of energy to the Mad Ants rotation, it might be a winning move in the big picture. Sheehey signed with the team Wednesday after starting his pro career overseas. He had one shoot-around Thursday morning to get acclimated.
"I wasn't really thinking about playing him," Mad Ants coach Conner Henry said of Sheehey sitting for three quarters. "I've been in situations where the coach would either throw me in or throw somebody in who's just gotten here and they look terrible and that shakes a kid's confidence.
"The way the game was going, I thought 'Let's see what he can give us.' He's got a nice motor and we needed effort. It worked out nicely for him."
Sheehey entered the game with 33 seconds left in the third quarter and Fort Wayne trailing by 13 points. He cut and moved on offense and tried to let the game come to him, and so it did. He scored three straight buckets to cut the Iowa lead to 82-79 and the crowd – especially a section littered with teenage girls – roared. He finished with eight points, a steal and a rebound in 12 minutes.
"He came in and gave us good energy and at that time, we needed it," Emmett said. "Hopefully, when he gets the system down and gets more comfortable, he can provide that for us."
Henry called it a "perfect start" for Sheehey.
"He lets the game come to him," Henry said. "He's active, he slides his feet and plays easy. He runs the floor great, spaces the floor and gave his teammates a chance to find him in space. And when they did, he was able to connect. He had a real nice game."
Sheehey said he tried to focus on what he has always done best.
"I just tried to do what I could do," Sheehey said. "Play simple. Play solid, run the floor and play hard on defense. I just got here yesterday, so I'm just trying to learn everything and get acclimated with everyone. So far, so good."
Sheehey wasn't the only newcomer to the Ants roster.
Indiana Pacers rookie center Shayne Whittington arrived on assignment for practice on Wednesday, and showed his style of play by flinging his 6-foot-11 body across the floor diving for a loose ball in the first half.
Whittington played 18 minutes with five points, four rebounds and an assist.
"I didn't know how good my conditioning would be coming down here, so I wanted to try to push myself a little bit," Whittington said. "One of my main concerns is to stop hesitating with my shot. So those are two things I'm trying to come down here with. I was just so excited to be on the court.
"Everyone wants to think coming to the D-League is a demotion, but it's not. It's to develop players. That's what this league is for. It's a good league with great players."
Whittington doesn't know how long he'll be with the Mad Ants. Initially, the Pacers seemed to be planning on two games, but it could stretch to four.
Sheehey, meanwhile, will move forward trying to find his niche with this team. Henry mentioned that Sheehey's style of play – tenacious and energetic – should fit in with the rest of the roster.
"I love the state of Indiana and I think it's a great opportunity," Sheehey said. "The Mad Ants is a great organization. They won last year. It's just a privilege to come in and play right away."
IOWA 103, MAD ANTS 94
Iowa 32 28 20 23 – 103
Fort Wayne 22 27 17 28 – 94
Iowa: Wilkins 3-9 0-0 6, Owens 4-10 5-5 16, Hall 7-10 2-2 18, Garrett 7-12 5-7 23, Smith 6-14 4-5 17, Allen 4-10 3-5 13, Henderson-Niles 5-8 0-0 10. Totals 36-73 19-24 103.
Fort Wayne: Simmons 3-6 0-0 6, Harris 1-8 0-0 3, Frisby 5-6 1-2 11, Emmett 11-18 1-3 25, Talton 4-12 2-2 11, Hyman 0-2 0-0 0, Fair 4-7 7-9 16, Hall 1-4 0-0 3, Whittington 2-4 1-2 5, Porter 3-3 0-0 6, Sheehey 4-6 0-0 8. Totals 38-76 12-18 94.
Three-point goals: I/12-23 (Owens 3-6, Hall 2-3, Garrett 4-6, Smith 1-3, Allen 2-5), FW/6-23 (Simmons 0-1, Harris 1-6, Emmett 2-6, Talton 1-4, Fair 1-3, Hall 1-2, Sheehey 0-1). Rebounds: I/35 (Hall 10), FW/38 (Frisby 9, Fair 8). Assists: I/15 (Wilkins 5), FW/17 (Hall 7). Steals: I/13 (Wilkins 4, Owens 4), FW/14 (Harris 3, Emmett 3, Talton 3). Blocks: I/0, FW/2. Turnovers: I/19, FW/24. Fouls: I/19, FW/22. Attendance: 2,333.