The Maine Red Claws fell to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants 118-110 in another close game at the Expo.
The excitement in the Expo was palpable as soon as the crowd began to fill in. There were concerns that the miserable, cold, rainy weather in the middle of the week would decrease attendance, ending the Red Claws’ sellout streak, but that turned out not to be an issue. Between the All-Star break and a road trip, Mainers hadn’t seen the Claws in two weeks, and Portland was clearly in the mood for some basketball.
The return of captain Billy Thomas and Paul Davis from injury, plus the home debut of new Red Claw Morris Almond, no doubt added to the excitement as well. Indeed, with Davis being out for quite a bit of February due to a concussion, the home crowd hadn’t seen him much, either. Fans wouldn’t be disappointed by their performances: Morris Almond, playing most of the game, had 21 points, while Paul Davis had 17 points and eight rebounds in just 24 minutes on the floor.
The Red Claws started off the game close, and the first quarter was truly back-and-forth. Neither team led by more than a few points until the Mad Ants knocked in four unanswered points with a few minutes left in the quarter. While trading shots kept the game close – the first quarter ended with a 36-31 Mad Ants lead – Maine couldn’t get the defensive stops they needed to tie the game up again. Unfortunately for Maine, that would continue to be a theme for the rest of the night: The Mad Ants would never surrender their lead, despite some serious rally attempts.
While the team struggled in a number of areas, perhaps the largest problem last night was their defensive shortcomings. Every time Maine managed to get it close, they wouldn’t get quite the defensive stops they needed, and Fort Wayne would manufacture another mini-run. The Claws did do a good job containing Ron Howard, who had lit them up in previous matchups; he was held to just 10 points. However, Ron Kurz stepped it up and knocked in 26 points, with Dan Dickau contributing 16 as well. While Dickau wasn’t a Mad Ant for those games, Kurz was, and had just nine points total.
There were issues with the Claws’ offense as well. The team was 5 for 20 with three-point shots, 25% on the night, though it’s worth noting that at 13-for-33 the Mad Ants weren’t exactly brilliant from downtown, either. It seemed as though many of those three-point shots were taken and missed when the Claws were nearing a tie. Whether through defensive or offensive mistakes, after the first quarter the Red Claws inevitably fizzled whenever they got within striking distance of the Mad Ants.
Fortunately, with another matchup against Fort Wayne tonight, the Claws have an immediate shot at redemption.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Russell Robinson, with 23 points; honorable mention to Paul Davis.
NEXT THREE: Thursday, February 25, vs. Fort Wayne Mad Ants, 7:30PM…Sunday, February 28, vs. Erie BayHawks, 5:00PM…Tuesday, March 2, @ Fort Wayne Mad Ants, 7:00PM.