On paper, the starting five the Mad Ants began their sixth NBA Development League season with looked as formidable as any team in franchise history. Including two players the Indiana Pacers shipped to Fort Wayne – forward Miles Plumlee and guard Orlando Johnson – the Ants had four on the floor with NBA experience.
In the end, however, pedigree was meaningless, as the Ants opened the 2012-13 season with a 109-100 loss to the Erie BayHawks on Friday at Memorial Coliseum.
The loss spoiled the coaching debut of Duane Ticknor, who admitted the rally wasn’t necessarily too little, but certainly too late.
It’s a 48-minute game, Ticknor said. We played 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and got after it a little bit. Disappointed in our defense the first half, real disappointed. We gave them open looks, they got confident and shot the heck out of the ball from the three-point line.
Ticknor held out the stats sheet and pointed to the bottom line of Erie’s three-point shooting.
There’s the difference, right there, he said.
Erie dropped 12 of 18 shots from three-point range, and the Ants made 3 of 13 – a difference of nine points.
BayHawks guard Nick Covington hit 10 of 12 from the floor and 5 of 6 from three-point range to lead Erie with 27 points.
You’ve got to give them credit. They knocked down shots, said Ants guard Ron Howard, who matched Covington with 27 of his own, including 12 of 12 from the free throw line.
Despite the lineup that included the two Pacers products, former Purdue standout JaJuan Johnson, who played last season in Boston, and point guard Walker Russell Jr., who played with the Detroit Pistons last season, the Ants fell behind 12-10 and never caught up.
A 0-for-9 stretch from the floor helped extend Erie’s lead to 18-11. After the first quarter, it was 26-18. At half, it was 58-43.
Our bigs were settling, Ticknor said of JaJuan Johnson and Plumlee. We didn’t attack the rim. When we did, we got buckets and we got to the foul line. We got to the foul line a ton. We just didn’t have a consistent effort.
Erie led 74-51 midway through the quarter before the Ants began to chip away at the deficit, climbing as close at 106-100 on a pair of free throws from Orlando Johnson with 48.9 seconds left.
Plumlee, the former Duke standout, had 5 points and 12 rebounds. Russell had 17 points. Orlando Johnson scored 15 points, eight of which came in the last quarter. JaJuan Johnson and Sadiel Rojas had 13 each.