FORT WAYNE, Ind. – In the game’s opening minute, Maine’s Chris Wright sunk a pair of free throws.
That 2-0 lead was the best the exhausted Red Claws could manage Thursday night against the more energized Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Jermaine Taylor continued his offensive stardom for the Red Claws, scoring a game-high 31 points, but Maine fell 107-93 to Fort Wayne in a D-League game that may have playoff implications. The Red Claws dropped to 23-23 and behind Fort Wayne (22-21) in the race for the last overall playoff spot.
Ron Howard scored 20 points and Tony Mitchell added 19 for the Mad Ants, who led by as many as 23 points.
After Wednesday night’s 103-100 loss to Canton followed by a four-hour bus trip overnight through cold weather and snow, it was evident that the Red Claws had little energy left. They were outrebounded by 57-38 and made just 39.1 percent of their shots.
“The guys, they fought hard,” Maine Coach Mike Taylor said. “I don’t think we played our best game today. But you can’t fault the effort. Back-to-backs (games) are really tough and you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Fort Wayne today.”
The Red Claws are in the middle of one of their longest trips of the year, although they had won the first two games heading into Canton. They’ll end the five-game trip Saturday at Springfield.
“We tried to rest up. We tried to get ourselves as ready as we could,” Taylor said. “We grinded it out in the first half, we were in position. But the third quarter, that was the tough part of the game for us. That’s when Fort Wayne took control.”
The offensive highlight was the shooting of Taylor. He hit 15 of 34 from the floor, taking more than twice as many shots than any player on either team. A former Central Florida star, Taylor has scored 65 points in his last two games and has averaged 25.5 points per game since being acquired by the Red Claws last week.
Mark Tyndale added 15 points for Maine and Wright scored 11.
The Red Claws were manhandled on the boards. Three Fort Wayne players had double-doubles, led by Brandon Wallace’s 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyndale led Maine with eight rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot.
After falling behind by eight points early in the game and scoring just two baskets in the first 6:45 of the game, a 9-0 run gave the Red Claws a 15-14 advantage. That was the last time they led.
Up seven points at halftime, Fort Wayne took clear control in the third quarter when it held Maine to 11 points.
The Red Claws’ frustration was evident when Taylor missed an open jump shot with one second left in the third quarter and hung his head down as the ball bounced off the rim.