SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – They still may be a work in progress, but the Maine Red Claws are showing signs of improvement.

The Red Claws used their backcourt quickness to end a three-game road losing streak Friday night with a 117-112 victory over the Springfield Armor.

An announced crowd of 2,558 saw the Red Claws win for the second straight night.

For most of the game, the Red Claws (5-6) made it look easy, thanks to lights-out shooting and a strong transition game. But they let the Armor hang around and needed big plays in crunch time.

“We’ve played well the last two games, but I think it’s our youth that causes us to go through some stretches where we’re just not into it mentally,” Red Claws Coach Austin Ainge said. “Our mental toughness needs to get better and we still have a lot of work to do.”

Tiny Gallon (19 points) returned Thursday after a back injury, and adding Sherron Collins (18 points) on assignment from the Charlotte Bobcats has helped. The roster has 11 healthy bodies and the Red Claws were able to use balance to beat the Armor (3-7).

“We’ve got guys who can score and play defense. We’re starting to jell,” said DeShawn Sims, who led the Red Claws with 25 points. Eugene Spates had 14 points and Jamar Smith 13.

Early on, the Armor were plagued by poor interior defense, resulting in layups for the Red Claws.

JamesOn Curry scored 17 of his 38 points in the opening quarter for Springfield.

“Give him credit, he made a lot of shots,” Ainge said. “We said before the game we weren’t going to let jump shots beat us, and they almost did.”

The Armor tried to counter the Red Claws’ inside dominance by giving 7-foot center Chas McFarland his first significant minutes. He scored 25 points.

Even when the Armor got their act together on defense, the Red Claws maintained a comfortable lead by hitting jumpers and driving to the basket for layups to build a 16-point halftime edge.

Then came the hiccup.

The Armor rallied in the third quarter and cut the lead to 76-72 after a steal and dunk by Brian Leggett. Then, with 2:26 remaining in the quarter, Leggett hit a shot from the top of the key to cut Maine’s lead to 76-74.

But Maine finished the third quarter by taking an 86-80 lead after Collins beat the buzzer with a driving layup.

The Red Claws opened the fourth with a 6-2 run. Gallon’s shot with 10:19 left gave Maine a 92-82 lead, but Curry made it a 97-92 game with 6:21 left.

The Armor took their first lead since the first quarter when Curry hit a 3-pointer with 4:32 left, only to see the Red Claws get it right back when Sims countered.

Collins connected for a 3-pointer to give Maine a 105-102 lead before Springfield tied it on a three-point play by McFarland.

Mario West struck for a 3-pointer, and a spinning layup by Sims put Maine ahead 112-107 with 1:09 left. West hit a fadeaway jumper with 32 seconds left for a 114-110 lead, and Collins added a free throw with 18.4 seconds left for a five-point bulge.

The Red Claws erased an early deficit created by Curry. They broke open a one-point game with an 18-4 run, capped by a shot by Matt Janning with 7:37 left in the half for a 42-27 lead.

NOTES: Former Celtics coach Chris Ford was at the game, scouting for the 76ers.


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