PORTLAND — A season will come down to one night for the Maine Red Claws.

Maine lost 105-92 to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants on Friday night, missing a chance to strengthen its playoff hopes in front of a 23rd straight sellout at the Portland Expo.

Maine (27-22) fell behind repeatedly by double digits to playoff-eliminated Fort Wayne (22-28).

The Claws now need a win tonight against the Erie BayHawks in their regular-season finale, and need Utah or Reno to lose in order to become the first D-League expansion team to qualify for the postseason since 2006.

“Hopefully a win will be enough,” said Maine Coach Austin Ainge. “We were treating this one as a must-win but couldn’t get it done.

“I told them to keep their heads up, get some rest and we’ll talk at shootaround.”

Maine sorely missed the inside presence of 6-foot-11 center Paul Davis (lower back strain) and was forced to use its perimeter game with mixed results. Davis may return tonight.

“We absolutely missed him,” said Ainge. “Both teams were forced to play small ball. That’s a game you have to drive and kick.”

Russell Robinson scored 27 points in 45 minutes, driving the basket and playing fierce defense for Maine.

“We needed two more guys to play like he did,” said Ainge.

“Literally we have to take one game at a time now,” said Robinson. “We’ve got to bounce back and not let one become two. We didn’t make enough plays. They let the ball fly.”

Fort Wayne led 51-50 at the half following two major comebacks by Maine in the first half.

But the Mad Ants put together a 19-6 run to start the third quarter, putting Maine on its heels again, down 70-56.

Maine had trailed by as many as 15 points in the second quarter before hitting back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to get back in the game at 35-29 with 8:58 left in the half.

Fort Wayne went on a 13-4 run in the last 4:42 of the first quarter to lead 30-20 by the period’s end.

The run came right after the early play of the game: a steal by Robinson, who passed off to Morris Almond, who connected with Maurice Ager on an alley-oop.

If Maine loses tonight, it would need Reno to lose its final two games to back into the playoffs.

“We wanted to take advantage of (Friday’s game),” said Ager. “But bottom line is we didn’t. All we can do now is take it one game at a time.”

 

NOTES: With tickets for tonight’s regular-season finale sold out, Maine became the first D-League team to sell out an entire season.

Tom Heinsohn, the former Celtics great, is expected to be on hand for the finale.

Dan Reed, the D-League president, was in attendance.

Tonight’s game will be nationally televised on Versus on tape delay at 11 p.m.

Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, was in the building but out of view for most of the game.

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]