Ben Bentil’s breakout game Rookie scores all 31 of his points after halftime Thursday

Ben Bentil returned to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants two weeks ago. He showed he was truly back Thursday afternoon.

This could be great for the Ants moving forward.

Bentil, a 6-foot-9 rookie out of Providence, tore things up in his rookie debut Nov. 12 before bolting for a stint in China. Since Bentil’s return, coach Steve Gansey has worked to fit the versatile big man back into the mix.

Midway through the third quarter of the Mad Ants’ 132-125 overtime win over the Erie BayHawks on Thursday at Memorial Coliseum, Gansey went all in with Bentil.

“We ran a play literally 14 out of 16 times for Ben and he made some good reads, hit some good baskets and we moved the ball at the end,” Gansey said. “It was a huge win for us.”

Bentil scored 31 points – all in the second half and overtime – as the Mad Ants came back from a 17-point deficit with 5:40 left in the third quarter. Bentil hit 11 of 19 shots, including 4 of 7 three-pointers, mixing up a soft touch with quick moves and drives to the basket.

“Everybody knows in the entire league that Ben can score the basketball,” Gansey said. “My job is to try to put him in better situations for him to score the ball and try to utilize him the best we can and use his strengths. We’ve been waiting for one of his breakout games, trying to get him more minutes and back in the flow of things with us.”

The Mad Ants outscored Erie 7-0 in the overtime period on a three-pointer by Travis Leslie (who scored 27 points with six assists), a drive by Bentil off a kick-out pass from Julyan Stone and two free throws by Jordan Loyd. Loyd, a rookie out of the University of Indianapolis, hit 13 of 14 from the line and scored 15 points despite taking a hard hit to the head and later a hard fall on a flagrant foul by Stephen Zimmerman.

Jarrod Uthoff, a rookie out of Iowa playing his first game since being acquired by the Mad Ants in a trade with Raptors 905, scored 15 points with three blocked shots.

Bentil said it has taken him a little time to adjust back to the Mad Ants after his play abroad. He scored 27 points in his NBA Development League debut on Nov. 12 at Greensboro, but left shortly afterward for the China opportunity.

“Definitely, it’s hard,” Bentil said. “It’s two different systems. I’m trying to adapt to playing with different type of guys. Going away for a month, team chemistry is always changing. I’m trying to fit back in, learn plays, get acclimated to how my teammates play. It’s been good so far. My teammates have been helping me out.”

Fort Wayne (18-10) was without starting guard Trey McKinney-Jones, who sat out with illness. Gansey relied on three players off the bench – Bentil, Uthoff and Loyd – down the homestretch in the second half, along with Leslie and Stone.

“It’s been fantastic,” Uthoff said. “The guys have been very welcoming. I really like the Mad Ants program and the coaches and players here and the fans are fantastic as well.”

Thursday’s game tipped off at 11 a.m., with primarily school children among the announced attendance of 3,862 fans. It was the first midday game in the Mad Ants’ 10-year history. The Mad Ants are off until a home game agaisnt Raptors 905 next Tuesday.

Gansey said at one point during the Mad Ants comeback Thursday, Stone turned to Bentil and said, “Are you back?”

Bentil answered in the affirmative.

“We tried to get some mismatches,” Gansey said. “If they switched a smaller guy on Ben, we’d throw it in the post. If they put bigger guys on him, he could rip and attack and get to the free-throw line. It was one of those games where we got rolling and kept feeding the horse.”