FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Maine forward Chris Wright took control early Thursday night against the best of the D-League.
In the end it wasn’t enough as the Red Claws lost to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, 122-108.
Wright scored 10 points in the opening quarter against Fort Wayne, which has the best record in the league, then another 10 in the second.
He finished with a season-best 30 points and a team-high 13 rebounds, but wasn’t satisfied because of the loss.
“I feel like you can play strong but if you don’t get the win, it doesn’t really mean much,” Wright said.
The loss was the Red Claws’ fifth straight and came on the next-to-last night of the season. The Red Claws (19-30), who have made the playoffs just once in their five-year history and never have won a playoff game, will end yet another season early Friday night, at Iowa.
Fort Wayne (33-16) clinched the top seed in the playoffs with the victory, but Wright and rookie forward Frank Gaines (23 points, 3 assists) didn’t make it easy for the Mad Ants.
Wright hit 12 of 24 shots, including 4 of 7 in the second quarter when the Red Claws erased a nine-point deficit. A 3-pointer gave Maine a 52-50 lead late in the first half.
“Chris plays with so much energy,” Maine Coach Mike Taylor said. “He does so many things, whether it’s in transition or rebounding or hustle plays. He does so many good things for us. Most important, he’s got a will. He’s got a will to win.”
“I just tried to go out there and do what I do best,” Wright said. “The shots were open. My teammates did a good job of finding me.”
Sadiel Rojas and Ron Howard each scored 21 points, leading the Mad Ants to their fifth straight victory.
The game was Wright’s third with the Red Claws since returning to the team from a 10-day stint with the Milwaukee Bucks. His first game back last week, he scored 29 points.
“Everyone knows the situation. You’ve got 10 days to prove yourself,” Wright said of his time with the Bucks. “Hopefully they saw enough of my game that they will one day call me or let me know they want me involved in something.”
The Red Claws, who had just eight players available, trailed Fort Wayne for virtually the entire game except for a few minutes in the second quarter when a 12-2 run pulled them out of a 10-point deficit and into a tie. They had no true center because 7-foot Zeke Marshall is not finishing out the season’s last week due to a death in his family.
Damen Bell-Holter, a 6-8 forward, started at center.