Fans at IPFW men's basketball games rarely leave not having been entertained. But over the last 11 months, those cheering on the Mastodons have also rarely left happy with the outcome.
IPFW has developed the reputation for being very competitive in the past two seasons, but last season's squad never really learned to finish games successfully. That problem has sort of been rectified this year.
The Mastodons (4-4) will host Miami (Ohio) (3-2) at 7 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum (1380-AM).
“(Finishing) was not our issue against the Naval Academy,” Mastodons coach Tony Jasick said of his team's most recent defeat. “Our issue was the way we started the game in not coming out with the pop and the energy that we needed to.”
The Mastodons dug themselves a first-half hole against the Midshipmen yet battled back before falling 54-49. It was the fifth time in six games against Division I competition this season that the Mastodons had played a contest decided by fewer than 10 points. The difference this year is that IPFW is finding a way to win some of those contests.
A year ago, IPFW struggled over its final 20 games of the season, and in 11 of those contests the outcome was decided by 10 points or less. The Mastodons won just two of those close games. But this season, they have showed progress despite not being nearly as experienced as last year's team. The Mastodons are 2-3 in games decided by nine points or less this season.
“When you look out there (against Miami), you are going to see a lot of guys that are still in their first 10 games,” Jasick said. “There is a process. With junior college transfers, when they come in (to Division I), there is an adjustment.”
IPFW had to play Navy not just on the road, but also without leading scorer Frank Gaines, who served a one-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team,” according to Jasick. Gaines will be in the lineup today.
“We had some guys in different roles, who weren't used to being relied on for their energy right from the tip,” Jasick said.
The RedHawks will provide a good measuring stick for the Mastodons. Miami has three defeats this season, but two of those were to national powers Louisville and North Carolina State.
“I wish that our team was peaking the entire year,” Jasick said. “But I also think that you have to have a realistic approach and understand that it is going to take some time.”
It has been awhile since the Mastodons have consistently found success on the court. In its last 21 games against Division I competition, Jasick's team is 4-17. However, this is a new group and Jasick believes in the plan that is being followed in developing his program.
“I do think that we have a chance to be really good,” Jasick said, “not just this year as we continue to go through it, but over the next two or three years with this group sticking together.”