Even after Tony Mitchell missed the first shot he took, a three-pointer on the Mad Ants’ second possession, coach Duane Ticknor applauded the effort and shouted from the sideline, There you go.
And would he ever go.
Mitchell, the 6-foot-8 forward who played at Alabama, scored a season-high 32 points Monday to propel the Mad Ants to a 94-81 victory over the same Canton team that beat the Ants two nights ago in Ohio.
The win over the NBA D-League East Division-leading Charge (18-12) not only keeps the Ants (14-15) within sight of first place, but it also keeps them on the heels of division rival Erie for the eighth playoff spot.
I just wanted to be active, said Mitchell, who was 11 of 24 from the field and 8 of 14 from the free throw line. Before we get a break here, I want us to win all our home games and beat a couple teams so we can get in this playoff race.
But before the NBA All-Star break gives the Ants 12 days without a game, there will be no immediate break.
The Ants will be home Wednesday and Friday, then hit the road for a Saturday game in Iowa.
It doesn’t get any easier, Ticknor said. We can only enjoy this one (Monday) and come back to work (today) at practice. Every game is important. This is important – a division game.
The Ants, playing with veteran guard Ron Howard for the first time since the middle of last month when he suffered a knee injury in Bakersfield, Calif., broke out to a 51-35 halftime lead. The lead was still a cozy 76-63 with 8:51 remaining in the game.
But Canton got back-to-back three-point plays 24 seconds apart and even drew within 82-78 on former Ant JaJuan Johnson’s three-point play with 4:20 remaining.
Here came Mitchell, though.
His floater from the lane that gave the Ants their 82nd point was followed by a tip-in, a twisting put-back, a free throw and a strong drive to the basket with 1:47 left that sent the Ants ahead 89-79.
In less than three minutes, Mitchell scored all nine of his fourth-quarter points in succession.
It was regular plays, Mitchell said of his overall night. I was just trying to see what their defense would give me, and they gave me a lot. I was just trying to be aggressive and get to the line.
Luke Harangody added 20 points and Howard had 11.
Note: Howard has been chosen to play in the D-League All-Star Game on Feb. 16 in Houston. It’s the second time that the former Valparaiso standout has been chosen to play in the game. He played in the 2010 All-Star Game. Howard averages 18.2 points, 4.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds.