Where the Mastodons are is where no other group ever ventured at the school. Other IPFW teams had dreamed of achieving what this group actually did this season, but they never got there.
The 2013-14 IPFW men's basketball season came to a humbling end Saturday in front of 3,642 fans, as Virginia Military Institute beat IPFW 106-95 in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. But the fact that Saturday's defeat closed the greatest season in program history made it a little easier to accept.
This group finished the season with a school record 25 wins (against 11 defeats), had the highest finishes in the Summit League regular season and tournament (second each), and earned the first postseason berth at the NCAA Division I level for the program.
“I just shared a moment with my teammates,” Mastodon senior Luis Jacobo said following the loss. “I thanked them for the greatest season that I've ever had.”
And Jacobo was only partially speaking of the success on the court.
“Not just the wins, but the fun that we had,” Jacobo said. “The chemistry, the building of relationships, these guys are all going to be in my wedding in a few years.”
That's a startling statement considering that 24 months ago, Jacobo didn't even know “these guys.”
Jasick and his coaching staff pieced together student-athletes from all over the country and from all different backgrounds. But somehow a bond within this divergent group formed and the end results were spectacular to behold.
“We dominated the intangibles,” Jasick said. “I literally think that we were the best team in America in the intangibles. Being unselfish, competing as a group, etc. It was just an unbelievable team to be a part of.”
It was a group that had seniors (Jacobo, Pierre Bland, and Michael Kibiloski) shine, but also had a freshman excel (guard Mo Evans was named as the conference Sixth Man of the Year).
Jasick found talent in Florida (Bland, Herbert Graham, Jacobo, Kevin Harden, and Steve Forbes), Minnesota (Will Dunn) and three other states in between.
These were city guys, suburban guys, blue-collar guys, corporate guys, reserved guys, and Forbes, who has yet to meet a stranger.
This squad could rely on Jacobo to carry it one night (and he did against the Keydets), Bland the next, Forbes the next, Evans the next, Reed the next, and, you get the point. Over the course of this season, the Mastodons had eight different guys lead it in scoring in various games. Eight different guys led it in rebounding during different games, as well.
IPFW could win games in explosive fashion (95 points vs. SIU-Edwardsville) and with patience (64-60 over South Dakota State in the recent league tournament). But the common theme was that it'd play hard and together every night out – and Saturday was no exception.
VMI (21-12) played exactly how it wanted to. The Keydets scored in bunches (topping 100 points for the second straight game) and from long range (they sank nine 3-point shots). But IPFW, despite struggling at the defensive end, continued to battle until the buzzer.
The Mastodons trailed by nine at halftime, but cut their deficit to (55-51) on a lay-in by Edwards just minutes into the second half.
VMI raced back to take a 19-point lead with just over seven minutes remaining, but the Mastodons cut the margin down to seven in the final minute.
“We did not do a good enough job of finishing balls around the rim so that we could defend the way that we wanted to defend,” Jasick explained. “They were able to get the ball off of the rim and then play the way that they wanted to offensively.”
VMI connected on nearly 60 percent of its shots, and IPFW's weaknesses defensively and at the free throw line (the Mastodons made just 11 of 21 attempts) – both areas that plagued this team at times this season – proved too much to overcome.
But following the game, though a feeling of disappointment was evident, it was no more prominent than an aura of pride amongst the players and coaches.
“For a long, long time, there are going to be people talking about this group of guys and what they've done,” Jasick said. “A lot of coaches say this, but don't really mean it, but this (success) could not have happened to a better group of guys. They are unbelievable dudes.”