A glance through the where-they-played-in-college column of any NBA D-League roster yields the familiar schools found in the NCAA tournament brackets piling up near your office photocopy machine this time of the month.
At the top of the Maine Red Claws’ listing, above Kansas, Washington and Kentucky, is this head-scratcher: IPFW.
Institute for Primarily Fiction Writing?
“Not many people know where or what IPFW is,” said Red Claws rookie guard Frank Gaines. “Some people ask if it’s even Division I.”
Should Gaines continue his torrid play of late, more folks may learn about his alma mater: Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The Mastodons do play Division I, but have to earn an invitation to the big dance.
And Gaines – he scored 31 points Sunday afternoon to lead the Red Claws to a 114-110 victory over the Erie BayHawks before a crowd announced as 2,693 at the Portland Expo.
It marked the second straight game Gaines had topped 30 points and his sixth in a row with at least 20.
“In my opinion, Frank is the Rookie of the Year in the league,” said Red Claws Coach Mike Taylor. “He’s been a prolific scorer for us. Especially now with us losing Chris Wright (to the NBA Milwaukee Bucks) and Chris Babb (to the Celtics), he’s just stepped up his production.”
With only eight players available for the fourth game in a row, Taylor relied on Gaines for 40 minutes Sunday. His specialty is driving to the basket through traffic, as evidenced by his game-high 15 free-throw attempts. When the shot clock is ticking down, the Red Claws (18-24) most often look to Gaines.
“Everybody knows what’s coming,” Taylor said. “They know the ball is coming to Frank Gaines and they know he’s going to attack the basket and look to score.”
On Sunday, Gaines helped the Claws recover from a chilly start – nearly five minutes passed before center Daniel Orton finally drained a jumper for the home team’s first field goal, after Erie (13-30) had jumped to an 11-2 lead. A coast-to-coast drive by Gaines and a free throw gave Maine an 18-17 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Erie roster featured four former Red Claws – Justin Brownlee, Micah Downs, Marcel Anderson and Ty Walker – with Anderson and Walker having started the season in Portland.
It was Anderson (18 points, all after intermission) who sparked a late run after Erie had fallen behind by 16 in the third quarter, not long after Gaines completed a four-point play and Zeke Marshall cleaned up after a Gaines drive to give Maine a 68-52 lead.
A little more than four minutes into the fourth quarter, Anderson drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the score at 89.
Maine big men Damen Bell-Holter and Orton helped the Red Claws regain control by hitting five of six free throws and adding an Orton dunk in traffic to Tyler Brown’s only basket of the game in a 9-2 run.
With two minutes left, Maine led 102-99 and Tyshawn Taylor scored six straight points, with two jumpers and two free throws.
“When the game is that close and on the line, I just feel a lot more comfortable with the ball,” said Taylor, who finished with 23 points. “That’s kind of my thing. I like the lights. I like being the guy to go to everything’s on the line.”
Erie made matters interesting when Scott Suggs (23 points) hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds to make it a two-point game, 112-110, with Orton at the line and 2.5 seconds remaining.
Up to that point, the Red Claws had made only 28 of 49 free-throw attempts.
“You can’t worry about the past,” said Orton, who hit both to finish with 22 points.
“You just have to focus on the present time. I know if I hit those two, the game’s pretty much over.”
The victory improved Maine’s record in Portland to 12-9 and kept alive dwindling playoff hopes. With eight games remaining on the schedule, four teams and 6.5 games stand between the Red Claws and the eighth and final berth.
“We’re still in the race,” Tyshawn Taylor said. “Holding court at home is important for us, and if we get a couple games on the road we’ll be right there.”
The distance may seem great, but frankly, at this point, they’re gaining.
NOTES: The three-person officiating crew led by Ben Taylor stopped the game at least four times for video reviews. One of the stoppages came early in the second quarter after Tyshawn Taylor and Erie center Solomon Jones exchanged unpleasantries and teammates rushed in to separate them. “It got a little chippy,” said Maine’s Taylor. “It’s competitive, so there’s going to be a little bit of trash talk, but we’re not boxers.” …
Another stoppage came near the end of the half when a lane violation was mistaken for a loose-ball foul and an Erie free throw had to be erased because it came from the wrong shooter. “It kind of helped, though,” Gaines said of the repeated breaks, “because it’s the third game of the week and we got to rest a lot. We got to conserve our energy.” …
Taylor said the Red Claws are looking to expand their roster, but cannot do so through trades because the deadline has passed. “We’ve got to look at the player pool and see if we can make an acquisition,” he said.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or