Bench comes up big, ailing Ants end slide

March 9, 2019

The flu is buzzing throughout the Mad Ants locker room. Je’Lon Hornbeak, Demetrius Denzel-Dyson and now leading scorer Rob Gray have all missed games due to illness. 

So when coach Steve Gansey called Friday night’s 110-98 win over the Lakeland Magic a “total team effort,” he wasn’t kidding.

The Mad Ants needed seven players to score in double figures to make up for missing Gray’s 17.2 points per game and get the win and snap a seven-game losing skid in front of an announced crowd of 3,596 at the Coliseum.

“Next-man-up mentality, and that’s exactly what Jovan (Mooring), Demetrius (Denzel-Dyson) did,” Gansey said. “It was a total team effort, and it was great to see.”

The Mad Ants (20-24) caught fire from 3-point land, where they hit 42.5 percent and seemingly made 3s whenever Lakeland (27-17) gained momentum. Hornbeak catapulted a 21-2 run when he hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer two steps in front of half court to end the third quarter.

Denzel-Dyson opened the fourth quarter by hitting three consecutive contested 3s. Magic coach Stan Heath called a timeout, but then Omari Johnson nailed a 3 followed by two Jordan Barnett dunks and the Ants were rolling.

“Demetrius Denzel-Dyson came in and he let it fly,” Gansey said. “That’s a guy who continues to work. The past games he hasn’t had that much of an opportunity, and he was sick our last game, and he didn’t look sick out there today.”

Denzel-Dyson went 6 of 9 from the field for 17 points off the bench, leading a second unit that posted 44.

“My teammates, they found me and I got going and they kept hitting me,” Denzel-Dyson said. “There was a killer instinct that I tried to have in my body so we could win the game and get back on track.”

Mooring stepped up big for the Ants, scoring a team-high 18 and dishing out seven assists. Mooring, who’s played nine games with the Ants, said he’s not in a rhythm yet but that he’s getting there.

“I’d been away from the game for a few weeks but getting my rhythm back,” he said. “Coach’s letting me play and living with my mistakes, but I’m feeling a lot better as the games go on.”

The guard was picked up from the player pool by the Ants on Feb. 19 as part of a revolving door of a roster the team has had this season.

“His ability to score the ball, play pick and roll is huge for us,” Gansey said. “He’s got to be able to distribute the ball for us and he’s a scoring threat, so he’ll get a lot of attention too.”

With six games left, the Ants are four games back of Central Division leader Windy City and 31/2 back of second-place Grand Rapids. The three Eastern Conference division winners will get playoff berths, as well as three wild cards in the conference.

The Ants hope to use this win as momentum when they hit the road for three straight, starting Monday.

“It can be a good or bad thing depending on if you get too comfortable,” Mooring said. “We know we have to continue to play this way and I feel like if we continue to do that we’ll get the results we deserve.”