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Rookie Johnson’s return boosts Ants

February 2, 2019

Alize Johnson acknowledges that what he’s done as a rookie is impressive.

“It is,” he said Friday, after completing his 16th double-double in his 19th G League game for the Mad Ants. “But honestly, I’m just trying to play basketball. Each and every day, I’m just trying to go out there and play as hard as possible. I’m trying to win for the program. I’m playing for my teammates and I’m playing for my family.”

The Central Division-leading Mad Ants won 117-112 over Raptors 905, the second-place team from the Atlantic Division, in front of 2,267 fans at Memorial Coliseum.

Johnson, who hadn’t been in a Fort Wayne uniform since Jan. 7 because he’d been with the Indiana Pacers, scored a career-high 31 points on 14-of-22 shooting, with 14 rebounds and six assists.

“It’s really impressive. His motor is extremely high and he brings it every single day, in practice and in games,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “He just wants to win and to keep getting better. He’s taking full advantage of being with us, when he is with us, and he’s just trying to get 1 percent better each day and wants to help the big club (the Pacers) at some point, also.”

Omari Johnson added 24 points for Fort Wayne (16-14). Stephan Hicks, back from his first 10-day contract with the Pacers, had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Rookie Rob Gray had 21 points.

“Everybody just understood the game plan. We went out there after, early on, not having enough energy early in the game. Coach Gansey and the rest of the coaching staff talked about how they were going harder than us at the start and we picked it up and came out with the win,” Alize Johnson of the Mad Ants’ early 13-2 deficit.

The Mad Ants took a 30-28 lead with 13 seconds left in the first quarter on back-to-back dunks by Jordan Barnett, who was playing just his second game with Fort Wayne since being acquired from the Wisconsin Herd, along with Ike Nwamu, for Elijah Stewart and Alex Hamilton.

“I know we kind of came out flat, but we have some new guys, and me and Alize hadn’t really been playing (here), so we wanted to try and bring that energy and get that chemistry that we had before we left,” Hicks said. “I think, throughout the game, we started to get that feeling again. We should be straight the next couple games.”

The teams traded jabs all night and it wasn’t until Omari Johnson converted a one-handed put-back, drew a foul and turned it into a 3-point play for a 105-101 lead with 4:32 remaining in the fourth quarter that it seemed Fort Wayne would close out the victory.

Josh Adams scored 19 points for the Raptors (20-13), who got 15 points and 10 rebounds from Jordan Loyd.

Notes: The Mad Ants wore Hoops & Heels jerseys that were auctioned off to benefit the Better Business Bureau. Before the game there was a networking and dinner event geared toward women that featured Pokey Chatman, coach of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. ... According to the NBA, Khris Middleton, who played for the Mad Ants in 2012-13, is the first player to ascend from the G League to an NBA All-Star. He was selected to represent the Milwaukee Bucks.

jcohn@jg.net

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