So much for the early-season help from the Indiana Pacers.
Guard Orlando Johnson and forward Miles Plumlee, property of the Pacers who were sent to Fort Wayne to play in the Mad Ants’ first two games this season, combined to score 53 points Sunday. And still the Ants lost to Maine, 117-112, at Memorial Coliseum.
And now the Pacers, one of the Ants’ four NBA affiliates, are taking the two players back.
“I think this was a great experience for both of them,” Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “They were happy to be here; they were glad to get back on the court. We’ll welcome them when they come back again.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-5 guard, scored 30 points, had 4 steals and 9 rebounds for the Ants (0-2), while the 6-11 Plumlee had 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting, and added 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Now the remaining Ants must fend for themselves as the season resumes Wednesday against Canton.
It was the second game in which Fort Wayne rallied from a double-digit deficit to get relatively close. In Friday’s 109-100 loss to Erie, Fort Wayne fell behind 23 points and got within six with less than a minute to play.
Same story, different opponent, as the Ants trailed 109-91 with 4:34 left, only to get within three, 115-112, on Plumlee’s drive to the basket with 10.7 seconds remaining.
Micah Downs, a Gonzaga product who led the Red Claws with 28 points, dropped the final two free throws with 8.5 seconds remaining.
“What killed us (Sunday) was we got dominated on the glass,” Ticknor said. “I think they had 27 offensive rebounds (the Ants had 9). No excuse for that. That’s effort, and I was really disappointed in that. Otherwise, I thought we really played hard. We got a lot better than what we played the other night. We’ve got a ways to go, but we know what we need to work on.”
What the Ants need to work on, Ticknor said, is getting effort from someone other than veteran guards Ron Howard and Walker Russell Jr., who scored 24 and 19.
“We need some other guys to step up,” Ticknor said. “We can’t just count on those guys time after time. Some of these other guys need to step up.
“I’m pretty disappointed in a few guys; I’m not going to point fingers right now, but we’ve got some guys who are pretty comfortable right now who shouldn’t be comfortable. If things aren’t going to get better, we’re going to make changes here. I’m not going to lose here. We’re going to win basketball games no matter what it takes. We’ll get people in here who want to be here and we’ll play the right way and do what we ask them to do. If we’ve got to make changes, we’ll make changes.”
Starting forward JaJuan Johnson and the seven off the bench played a combined 102 minutes, 27 seconds, and scored 12 points. Johnson led the group with 4.