The Fort Wayne Mad Ants are in the NBA Development League playoffs after a near-complete turnaround from a year ago.
With a 116-100 win over Long Island on Tuesday at the Barclays Center in Long Island, N.Y., the Ants improved to 29-20 and clinched a D-League Eastern Conference wildcard playoff berth. The Ants finished 20-30 and missed the playoffs last season in their first year under Indiana Pacers ownership.
Fort Wayne, which ends the regular season against Canton at 7 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, will likely be the No. 4 seed and face No. 1 seed Raptors 905 (37-11) next week in the first round of the playoffs. As a lower seed, the Mad Ants would host the first game of the three-game series. It is likely to be Tuesday, April 4.
Canton (29-19) holds the tiebreaker with Fort Wayne and currently sits in the No. 3 seed spot. The Charge would play No. 2 seed Maine or Delaware.
“Obviously, we're super-excited,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “Our goal as an organization was to win this year, and that's exactly what we did. We wanted to make the playoffs as our first goal, and we've done that. We have one more game and I'd still like to beat Canton. We beat them once last year and haven't beat them this year. We'd like to beat them and keep on winning going into the playoffs.”
Tyler Hansbrough led the way Tuesday with a season-high 34 points with 14 rebounds. Hansbrough recorded his eighth double-double in 13 games with the Mad Ants.
Marquis Teague, another recent Mad Ants acquisition, scored 16 points with five assists. Alex Poythress scored 13, Nick Zeisloft 12 and Jordan Loyd had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Hansbrough and Teague have clearly added more talent and depth to the Mad Ants roster.
The team is strong enough throughout the roster that Gansey left starting guard Trey McKinney-Jones at home Tuesday in order to give him some extra rest. McKinney-Jones has logged the most minutes on the team.
“That's kudos to our GM Brian Levy and the Pacers organization,” Gansey said of the team's talent. “Brian wanted to build this team to be a playoff team and he's given me a lot of good players who could start on different teams and deserve more minutes.”
Hansbrough's presence also gives the Mad Ants an inside force that few teams can match.
“Tyler's a huge physical presence,” Gansey said. “He gives us that inside presence and you have to have that in the D-League to succeed.”
Gansey said he believes the Mad Ants can beat potential playoff opponent Raptors 905 if his players play to their capabilities.
“I'm challenging everyone in Fort Wayne to come out and support us; we really need it,” Gansey said. “We really need that support. We want to get that first one and I love our chances playing at home.”
Long Island (16-33) was led Tuesday by Cliff Alexander with 29 points and 11 rebounds.