SOUTH BEND – Following IPFW's 74-62 loss at Notre Dame on Monday, I said to Mastodon coach Tony Jasick “You should've have won this game” and he scoffed. On the surface, beating the 22nd-ranked Fighting Irish (10-1) on their home court isn't a likely scenario for many teams this season. Perhaps “should've” was the improper word. “Could've” would have been a more accurate assessment, and that is because IPFW (5-7) was indeed good enough to win.
“Our guys will fight you now,” Jasick said. “We fought and battled, but you've got to give Notre Dame some credit.”
Sure you do, the Fighting Irish are a pretty good, smart, disciplined team that handled the varying defensive looks that Jasick's team threw at them. However; and this should be taken as a positive evaluation by the Mastodon players, coaches and fans, not a criticism; IPFW exhibited enough ability to make plays at both ends of the floor, and could've won this game. Absolutely, it would've been difficult, but it was definitely possible.
“We bought into it and I think we could've also,” IPFW freshman forward Joe Reed said of his team's chances of winning. “They are a great team, but I thought we played our hearts out.”
Over recent seasons, the Mastodons have always played hard – that is unquestioned. However, the difference between winning and losing is a very fine line, and successful teams find ways to win games.
IPFW never learned that trait last season, and so far this year, the Mastodons have shown some growth in that area, as they have beaten Texas-Pan American, Dartmouth and Miami (Ohio) in narrow victories. But on Monday, they also showed that they have the ability to lose focus on enough possessions to ultimately plague this team in as many close games as it is sure to find itself in this season.
Jasick and Reed are both correct in stating that Notre Dame is good, because it is. However, the Irish being good has little to do with coming out of halftime, needing a positive start, and losing defensive position in the post and thus fouling the shooter twice.
Notre Dame being good has little to do with throwing the ball away on your first offensive possession of the second half.
Notre Dame being good has little to do with allowing Irish center Garrick Sherman to run down the floor and post up underneath the rim, which results in another lay-in.
Notre Dame being good has little to do with allowing a wide-open three-point shot by Notre Dame forward Scott Martin on an out-of-bounds play at a critical juncture of the game.
Notre Dame being good has little to do with not helping on an Irish driver long enough to allow a teammate to get back into position and giving up a lay-in.
Notre Dame being good has little to do with putting forth enough effort to stop a driver outside of the lane, rather than getting in position too late to prevent a lay-in.
IPFW simply isn't good enough to take possessions off, and on Monday it did so enough times, to prevent it from really being in position late in the game to pull off the upset.
The Irish had a definite size advantage against the Mastodons and outscored them 40-26 in the paint. But a high percentage of those baskets were made, not by the much larger Notre Dame front court, but by the Irish guards simply driving to the rim against a too-often porous Mastodon defense.
All of these types of mistakes, which add up in close games, are certainly correctable, and that is something positive for the IPFW coaches and players to take from this defeat.
This group has shown time and again that it is good enough to “fight,” as Jasick put it. In 10 games against NCAA Division I competition this season, the Mastodons have lost seven times, but never by more than 13 points. Now it needs to show the ability to make the necessary amount of plays in order to win consistently. And it can, because these guys are good enough to do so.