The Grand Rapids Drive lost 136-105 to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in a fiery matchup of NBADL Eastern Conference playoff contenders. Jordan Loyd led the visitors with a near triple-double (30 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists) and Travis Leslie added 29 points as the Mad Ants won their second straight game while handing Grand Rapids their second straight loss after winning eight of their previous nine games.
With Detroit Pistons’ assignees Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije in uniform for coach Rex Walters on a jersey takeover night presented by the Grand Rapids Urban League, the Drive would have seemed to hold the upper hand. But, the second quarter ejection of guard Kevin Murphy for a “hostile act” (punching Mad Ants guard Nick Zeisloft) left Grand Rapids short-handed even with the recent return of Ray McCallum from his two 10-day contracts with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.
With the game tied 20-20 in the first quarter, Fort Wayne went on a 9-0 run and took control of the game from then on. The Mad Ants held a 38-32 lead at the quarter break.
In the second, the visitors pushed the lead to 12 points at 49-37. Stephan Hicks took a hard spill, falling and landing flat on his back when Murphy pump-faked, sending the defender hard to the ground. After hitting one of two free throws to bring the Drive within 49-43, Murphy sent Zeisloft tumbling into the crowd on the opposite end with what appeared to be a forearm shiver after some back-and-forth jawing. Both players received a technical foul for their part and Murphy was ejected from the game. Ellenson missed his free shot for Grand Rapids and Zeisloft buried both of his free throws before also hitting a deep three-pointer to give Fort Wayne a 54-43 lead. Ellenson would bring the Drive back within six points at 66-62 in the final minute of the first half, but the Mad Ants scored again and took a 69-62 advantage to the locker room.
At the half, Special Olympians from Kenowa Hills and Kelloggsville school districts took the court to show off their skills and entertain the crowd.
Jordan Crawford” width=”300″ height=”225″ />The Drive opened the second half with a concerted effort to get the ball in the hands of Ellenson and Jordan Crawford, who led the team with 27 points, which brought them as close as six points. The Mad Ants, though, responded in kind with consistent ball movement, seemingly always finding the open man for an easy basket. Reliving the good ole days of the second quarter, the teams received three more technical fouls in the third as the lead grew to 100-84 heading to the final quarter.
Grand Rapids got back within 11 points of the lead before Fort Wayne put their collective foot on the throats of the Drive’s comeback bid. After a Mad Ants challenge and referee review of a foul committed against the Drive’s Chris Horton, Fort Wayne reigned supreme from behind the 3-point arc as Trey McKinney-Jones, Loyd and Zeisloft combined for five makes in a five-minute stretch to push the lead to 30 points.
Fans from all over the midwest came out to see former Central Michigan University guard Chris Fowler. Playing in his first professional game, Fowler entered the game late in the fourth and scored a basket, got fouled and made the free throw to wow the crowd who had traveled to watch his debut.
Mad Ants superman Zach, along with his parents, made the trip north from Indiana to see their home town heroes take on the Drive here in Beer City, as well as visit with former Mad Ant and current Drive player Ramon Harris. Zach, who is definitely Fort Wayne’s biggest fan, has cerebral palsy and is an inspiration to the players and coaches. He was even surprised with a pair of Jordan XXIX’s from former Mad Ant Ben Bentil, a former Celtics draft pick, earlier this year. (Mom showed us the pictures.)
The Drive head out on the road to Chicago on Friday to take on the Windy City Bulls in the first of four straight games away from the DeltaPlex before returning home to play the Maine Red Claws on March 15.