The Fort Wayne Mad Ants spoiled the Maine debut of Guerschon Yabusele by taking their only lead of the second half in the final 18 seconds and holding on for a 111-110 D-League playoff victory over the Maine Red Claws on Monday night.
A crowd of 1,863 at the Expo saw Fort Wayne storm back from 13 points behind in the fourth quarter to beat the Red Claws and force a decisive third game in their best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinal series. The rubber game is 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Expo.
“We went into their place and came from behind to win a tough game,” said Red Claws Coach Scott Morrison. “They came into our place and came from behind to win a tough game. It doesn’t get much more even than that.”
The Claws had two chances to go ahead after Fort Wayne’s Trey McKinney-Jones caused Jordan Mickey to foul out and hit both free throws to put Fort Wayne ahead. Abdel Nader drove in for a bank shot that lipped out, and Demetrius Jackson lofted a floater from the left baseline that caught the front rim and bounded out.
“It wasn’t what I drew up,” Morrison said, “but at the end of the day, in that situation, you’ve got to attack the rim, attack the paint in some way. I thought Abdel’s might drop, but credit to our guys for getting the ball back, getting another chance.”
The winner of Wednesday’s game advances to the Eastern Conference finals against top seed Raptors 905, the Toronto affiliate that swept No. 4 Canton in two games. Game 1 of that series will be Friday in either Portland or Fort Wayne.
The Mad Ants trailed 90-77 early in the fourth but battled back on a series of fast-break baskets.
“It felt like they controlled the whole game, and toward the end we kind of snuck in and got it,” said Fort Wayne center Tyler Hansbrough, who finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds. “The same thing happened at our place. We felt like we controlled the whole game, and toward the end they made a run and stole it from us.”
Mickey finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Nader had 19 points, and Jalen Jones and Yabusele each scored 18.
Yabusele, a Celtics first-round draft pick, also had nine rebounds and six assists. He checked in midway through the first quarter and immediately dropped in a twisting layup after a feed in traffic from Mickey.
Left alone on the left wing, Yabusele drove hard to the basket, drew contact and completed a three-point play. When Fort Wayne backed off him, Yabusele splashed a 3-pointer.
His most impressive performance, however, was a sequence of consecutive offensive rebounds – the second requiring a bit of mid-air acrobatics – off missed 3-point attempts from the left corner by Arthur Edwards. The crowd’s roar reached a crescendo when Coron Williams converted a Yabusele pass into a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Yabusele capped the first quarter with an alley-oop catch of a Williams pass, and with his momentum carrying him out of bounds, a pass to Edwards in the corner for a 3-pointer.
Maine led 28-24 after one quarter and 59-51 at halftime, led by Mickey’s 19 points. It was 88-77 going into the fourth.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or: