Mad Ants veterans lead way to deciding Game 3 Fort Wayne looks to move on against Maine tonight
Down the stretch of the series-tying comeback win, Fort Wayne Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey rode the guys with experience, and it paid off.
Gansey rolled with the players who have dealt with playoff pressure, whether in the NBA, the NBA Development League or the NCAA Tournament.
The five on the floor included Tyler Hansbrough, a veteran of NCAA and NBA pressure situations; Trey McKinney-Jones, who has been a part of two D-League finals; Travis Leslie, a veteran of various pro locales; Marquis Teague, who thrived at the University of Kentucky; and Indiana Pacers assignee Georges Niang, a year removed from NCAA tourney pressure at Iowa State.
The Mad Ants came back from 15 points down to beat Maine 111-110 on Monday at Maine to even the D-League Eastern Conference best-of-three semifnals. The deciding Game 3 tips off at 7 tonight at the Portland Expo Building.
“When you think about it, every year Trey has been in the D-League, he’s been to the finals. That’s a huge advantage,” Gansey said. “You have a seven-year NBA vet like Tyler, who has combined for 19 rebounds in two games. Travis shot the ball really well in two games, but I’m more impressed with what he did at the defensive end.”
McKinney Jones, the remaining player link to the Mad Ants’ 2014 D-League champs, has played 92 of the 99 minutes in the series so far. Hansbrough has played 89 minutes. Niang is third-highest with 67 minutes.
Leslie has come off the bench to hit 15 of 25 shots, including 4 of 9 from three-point range. His 35 points in two playoff games rank third behind Hansbrough (56) and McKinney-Jones (42).
Niang has combined for 29 points and 15 rebounds in two games.
“I think we have the momentum and their backs are against the wall, even though they’re playing at home,” Gansey said. “We feel like we should be going to the Eastern Conference finals already. But it hasn’t been easy for us all year, so it’s not going to be that way in the playoffs.”
After the Mad Ants lost Game 1 in Fort Wayne, Gansey told his team to focus on winning Game 2.
“Now, we’ve won one, so let’s go out and play again and see what happens,” Gansey said. “Let’s get focused, make adjustments, stay fresh and go out there and see what happens. If this was a seven-game series, it would be pretty interesting.”
Gansey praised his players for fulfilling the game plan of attacking Maine rather than settling for outside shots, which hurt the Mad Ants in Game 1. In the fourth quarter, especially, McKinney-Jones and Leslie were adept at driving to the basket, Teague was effective in facilitating the offense and Hansbrough and Niang were strong inside.
Hansbrough had 56 points and 35 rebounds in two games. He has helped set the team’s aggressive tone.
“I don’t want to stop coaching Tyler,” Gansey said. “He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever coached in the D-Legue. I don’t want our time to be done. This is fun. Let’s keep balling, let’s keep winning, let’s keep this going.”
Maine took Game 1 after trailing most of the game. Fort Wayne took Game 2 after trailing most of the game. The Red Claws have a strong nucleus, including Boston Celtics players Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson, along with Jalen Jones and Abdel Nader.
“We’ll have to have some new stuff for Game 3,” Gansey said. “It’s been kind of a chess match with (Maine coach) Scott (Morrison). Which guys do we want in? Who do you want the ball with at the end? We were one possession away (from winning) in Game 1. Maine was one possession away in Game 2.”
Game 3 is here. Winner moves on. Loser calls it a season.
“This is a very special group,” Gansey said. “I think it’s one of the best teams the Mad Ants have had in 10 years.”
NOTE: If The Mad Ants beat Maine, they will host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against Raptors 905 at 5 p.m. Sunday at the coliseum. <br>
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<center> Up next </center><br>
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Game 1: Maine 110, Fort Wayne 106 (OT)
Game 2: Fort Wayne 111, Maine 110
Game 3: Fort Wayne at Maine, 7 tonight
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