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15-point lead slips away as Ants bungle ball handling

December 31, 2018

ANGOLA : The atmosphere was festive, just about what the Mad Ants hoped it would be as 2,651 fans were in the 3,500-seat MTI Center on the campus of Trine University.

And there were moments when it came particularly alive, none more memorably than Tra-Deon Hollins’ block of a Joe Chealey layup attempt in the fourth quarter with Fort Wayne clinging to an eight-point lead.

But the fans couldn’t sustain the Mad Ants, as they lost for the third time in their last four games, falling 110-104 to the Greensboro Swarm on Sunday.

Seconds after Hollins had swatted his shot away, Chealey made a jump shot that kicked off a 13-0 run for a 104-99 Greensboro lead.

Fort Wayne was unable to recover in a game that protecting the ball was its problem.

“Our goal is 12 or less turnovers per game and we had 25 turnovers (that led) to 26 points,” said Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey, whose team squandered a 15-point lead. “There’s a lot to work on. We’re a young team. We’ve got to continue to try our best to play a full 48 minutes.”

Omari Johnson led Fort Wayne with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including 6 of 12 from 3-point range. Rob Gray had 17 points. Alize Johnson totaled 15 points and 18 rebounds for his 12th double-double in 14 G League games.

“The fans were great. We had a game outside (Memorial) Coliseum, 45 minutes away, and everybody traveled here to watch us play and that was big time,” Alize Johnson said.

The Mad Ants (9-10) played at the MTI Center : the first time they’d played a regular-season home game away from the Coliseum : so they could get a feel for the logistics of the building in case the Coliseum is unavailable during a team run into the playoffs.

“I loved the atmosphere and how it was a close-knit environment,” Gansey said. “The fans seemed like they packed it. It was great and I really enjoyed it.”

Before the game, the Swarm (11-9) was assigned Dwayne Bacon by the parent Charlotte Hornets. Bacon had averaged 5.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and 12.3 minutes in 17 NBA games this season, then he scored a team-best 22 points for the Swarm.

Elijah Stewart, who had come in to the day averaging 4.1 points and 11.7 minutes for the Mad Ants, got his second straight start and took advantage with 3-for-3 shooting in the first quarter. His 3-pointer, followed by a layup, gave Fort Wayne a 10-1 lead. And his baseline dunk made it 19-9, en route to a 30-26 lead at the end of the quarter.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Gray made it 59-46 with 3:50 remaining in the second quarter, and Omari Johnson had 16 by halftime to propel the Mad Ants to a 67-57 lead.

Just as there were a few technical glitches : a short-term power outage along press row and referee displeasure with the drum line playing while Greensboro had the ball : the Swarm took an 82-81 lead in the third quarter on a Jaylen Barford jump shot.

“We started having some careless turnovers. We weren’t taking care of the ball,” said Edmond Sumner, who had 11 points and five assists for Fort Wayne. “They went on a run and we didn’t kind of spark back with them and that hit us.”

jcohn@jg.net

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