PORTLAND, ME - The Maine Red Claws (4-2) held a slim six-point lead through the first three quarters of Saturday night's contest and withstood a furious fourth quarter by hitting 8 of their last 10 free throws to get their first win at home the season, defeating the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (2-5) at the Portland Expo Building, 116-113. The win, coupled with a Springfield loss tonight, moves the Red Claws into first place in the East Division.
The Red Claws opened up a 30-22 lead after the first quarter with the strong play of Chris Wright and a balanced attack that saw eight different Red Claws scoring. Fort Wayne stayed in the game with a strong second quarter, paced by Walker Russell's 14 points in the second stanza to cut the lead to 57-56. A Micah Downs' buzzer beater gave Maine a 59-56 edge entering the locker room at the half.
Russell opened the second half with a floater to cut Maine's lead to one, but a 13-2 Maine run led by Xavier Silas' five points and Chris Ayer's three blocks pushed the Red Claws' lead to 11, and it appeared that Maine was on cruise control. But the Mad Ants hung around, as Sadiel Rojas threw in eight points in the quarter, including six in the last 1:30 to cut Maine's lead to two. Maine grabbed four quick points in the frame to end the third, 84-78.
Leading Fort Wayne for the night was Russell (29 points, 3 assists, 3 steals), with contributions from Ron Howard (27 points, 4 assists, 3 steals), Rojas (18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 steals) and Tony Mitchell (18 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists). Howard, Rojas and Russell combined for a perfect 19-of-19 from the free throw line.
Maine earned their first home win with a stellar performance from Shelvin Mack (26 points, 8 assists, 5 steals), who earned Adidas Player of the Game honors, with Chris Wright (21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals), Kris Joseph (18 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals), Micah Downs (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks) and DaJuan Summer (12 points, 11 rebounds) rounding out the Red Claws in double figures. Chris Ayer also made his presence felt (9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks) in the win.
The Red Claws move to 2-0 against Fort Wayne this season. The Red Claws and Mad Ants will meet again next Friday in Fort Wayne, the first of five more meetings this season. The Red Claws will play again tomorrow night against the Canton Charge in the Portland Expo Building at 5 PM.