(NBAE/Getty Images)

Simply put, the best team won on Friday night.  Not to be overlooked was a huge effort from one of the NBA Development League’s shining stars and the result was the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants securing a playoff bid.  Though the gap was only 5 points with 1:47 left, the visitors kept their cool attacked the basket on their next possession and earned a 125-112 win over the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

The Skyforce had a rough shooting stretch to start the fourth quarter which allowed the Mad Ants to extend the lead to double digits.  Andre Barrett gamely tried to spur the Skyforce offense to close the gap, but shouting distance was as close as it got at the end.  Barrett’s 20 points and 14 assists were integral to the effort as were James Mays and his 24 points and 11 boards.

Tony Mitchell had a pedestrian first quarter, but sparkled over the next three frames to the tune of 49 points, tying the season high in the D-League this season.  It turns out that Mitchell created individual history as that scoring mark was the highest by a professional player in a single game at the Sioux Falls Arena.  Of course the Skyforce will call the Sanford Pentagon home next season.  If that’s how the season ends for Sioux Falls it will be a fitting swan song for a team that struggled to get wins at home during the franchise’s  24th year of operation.

For the Mad Ants in their much shorter and less illustrious history, the playoff bid is their first.  In fact, their five previous seasons were all sub-.500 campaigns.  So what better man to appoint to lead the team than Duane Ticknor, who spent a couple of years as an assistant with the Skyforce, but has a history of coaching playoff contenders as the leader on the bench.  As the man in charge, Ticknor admitted that he didn’t expect that the team would make the playoffs in his first year at the helm.  Nonetheless, he has gotten the most out of his players such as veterans Anthony Harris who tallied 20 points and Chris Porter who came off the bench to score 19.  Additionally with starting forward Anthony Richardson coming down with a stomach ailment just before tipoff necessitated that the Ants pull together in to fill the void.  The pressure is now off for Ft. Wayne who tussle with Tulsa who also qualify for the postseason with the Sioux Falls loss.

Seven spots are now claimed in the NBADL second season.   The Maine Red Claws are in the best position to secure the last spot.  A win over Erie on Saturday night puts them in the playoffs for the first time in their 4th year of existence.  That fate should be known sometime during halftime in Sioux Falls’ next game at Iowa.  Should Maine fall, then Sioux Falls would only need to topple the Energy to gain playoff access.