Mad Ants see 20-20 from rookie Johnson
The first half hadn’t even been completed when Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey looked toward the Memorial Coliseum crowd and said, “Alize is going to get 20 rebounds tonight.”
You could say Gansey had a 20-20 vision.
Alize Johnson, playing just his second game for the Mad Ants, totaled 27 points and 20 rebounds, four short of the franchise rebounding record set by Rob Kurz in 2010.
He was the pivotal figure of the Mad Ants’ 133-105 victory over the Maine Red Claws before 4,221 fans at the Coliseum on Saturday.
“It felt great,” said Johnson, a rookie second-round draft pick of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. “That’s one of the things I try to do every night is go out there and try to rebound the basketball. That’s something that I love to do. It just happened that tonight I got lucky enough to get 20 of them.”
Gansey, who was an assistant coach to Joey Meyer when Kurz had his record-setting night at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, believes Johnson has the potential to become a rebounding machine for the Mad Ants. Before this game, Gansey was on the phone with Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, and they discussed the Mad Ants’ 116-111 victory Friday over Erie in which Johnson had 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“I said, ‘Ten is a small number for Alize and then he comes out here with 20 rebounds,’” said Gansey, adding the Pacers plan to keep Johnson with the Mad Ants at least through the coming week.
Johnson made 11 of 20 shots and had 12 offensive rebounds, as Fort Wayne had a 48-34 rebounding edge.
“He’s got a knack for the ball,” Gansey said. “You can’t teach that. He knows where to be, where that ball is. It’s his motor. That’s what makes him get to those balls. Guys are boxing him out and his swimming guys, he’s jabbing and going the other way, and that takes a lot of energy.”
Ben Moore, released by the Pacers earlier this month, had 19 points for the Mad Ants (2-1), who got 17 points from Stephan Hicks. Omari Johnson, the all-time leader in games played for the Red Claws, added 15 points for Fort Wayne.
Maine (1-3) was paced by the 23 points of Walt Lemon Jr., who starred for the Mad Ants in 2015-16 and 2017-18, and made his NBA debut last season for the New Orleans Pelicans. He signed a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics over the summer which is why he’s with Maine, their minor-league team.
After the season-opening 112-101 loss at Sioux Falls on Nov. 2, the Mad Ants believe they have sent a message that they will again be difficult to beat at the Coliseum after a 19-5 home mark last season when they won a division title and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals.
They led by as many as 32 points in this game and trailed by only six.
“My teammates were great,” said Alize Johnson, who played last season at Missouri State. “The coaching staff set us up with the right plays to put us all in great positions. It was a huge win today for coach Gansey and for all of us. We’re just excited to keep working like this.”
Ike Anigbogu, a second-year Pacers player, didn’t play due to a scheduled night of rest.