Inside pair key to Ants’ success
The Mad Ants believe they have a remarkable forward tandem of Tyler Hansbrough, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, and Georges Niang, the Indiana Pacers’ rookie.
The problem is, they’ve played together only once and it was a 110-106 overtime loss to the Maine Red Claws in Game 1 of their D-League first-round playoff series.
While they looked sometimes terrific, other times not, Hansbrough and Niang coming together would seem to be necessary if the Mad Ants are to extend their season with a Game 2 victory tonight at the Portland Exposition Building in Portland, Maine.
“We have to take care of business and we have to take it from them, like they took it from us here,” said coach Steve Gansey, whose Mad Ants squandered a nine-point Game 1 lead with poor perimeter shooting at Memorial Coliseum.
The Mad Ants have had since Tuesday to make adjustments for Game 2. While the time was welcomed from a practice standpoint, they would have preferred to get right back at it and not have to stew so long over the loss.
Hansbrough had 29 points on 12 of 22 shooting and 20 rebounds, and he was the focal point of the offense early. But the Mad Ants strayed from what had been making them successful and began hoisting shots from the outside, which they admitted was a mistake.
They shot 42 percent from the field, including 4-of-25 shooting from 3-point range, while Maine shot 48 percent.
Rookie Detmetrius Jackson, a former Notre Dame player and prospect of the Boston Celtics, led Maine with 30 points.
“Playoff time, end-of-the-season time, it’s all about finding your stride,” Jackson said. “Any group of guys, if they find their stride, they can get it rolling. We’re finding our stride here at the end, having fun with it and are just trying to compete.”
Despite winning one fewer game than the Mad Ants during the regular season, the Red Claws won the Atlantic Division to get the second seed in the conference and home-court advantage in the best-of-3 series that would continue at Maine on Wednesday, if the Mad Ants win tonight.
Whichever team emerges from this series will face Raptors 905, which won the regular-season championship and completed its two-game sweep of Canton on Saturday night.
Niang made only 6 of 22 shots for 13 points in Game 1. He was 0 for 4 from 3-point range and had six assists and four turnovers.
“I thought we played well,” Hansbrough said of he and Niang. “Georges, his ability to pass and his outside touch are great. Obviously, (Tuesday) wasn’t his best game, but he can do a lot of different things and I like playing with him. I think we’re going to present some issues. The more we play and practice, the more it’s going to give us opportunities to figure things out. The long break should be good for us in that respect.”
The Mad Ants out:rebounded Maine 56-46, and they want to recommit to the inside game. Aside from a five-game losing streak in February, the Mad Ants have lost back-to-back games only twice this season, so they’re confident in their chances in the series.
“I thought we had some good looks (in Game 1),” Gansey said. “I thought (Hansbrough) got fouled a lot down there, but they let us play definitely. It’s the playoffs, whistles aren’t going to be going too much. I like what we did. Georges didn’t have a very good shooting game, but high-low and everything, Tyler had a very good game.”