Fort Wayne ‘hunting consistency’ and may have found it

Fort Wayne men's basketball coach Jon Coffman confers with his assistants during a timeout in a recent game against South Dakota at Memorial Coliseum. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Kentucky's Wenyen Gabriel, top, tries to tie up Fort Wayne's John Konchar during the first half of a game earlier this season in Lexington. (By The Associated Press)
Fort Wayne guard Bryson Scott rests on the Mastodon bench during a recent game against South Dakota at Memorial Coliseum. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

The month of February isn’t just difficult on college basketball teams because the season is wearing on players physically and mentally, but also because within conference play, every team is playing another that knows it very, very well, and vice versa.

That was the case Thursday, as Fort Wayne reversed its earlier loss at Oral Roberts with a comfortable 10-point win over the Golden Eagles.

The Mastodons (15-10, 4-4 Summit League) will host Denver (10-12, 4-4) Saturday at 2 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.

A month ago, Fort Wayne had shot the ball poorly at Oral Roberts, before rebounding 48 hours later and beating Denver on the road. However, the Mastodons adjusted Thursday against the Golden Eagles’ zone defense and shot the ball very successfully (50 percent both overall and from 3-point range). However, fourth-year Mastodon coach Jon Coffman said he doesn’t make major alterations just because his opponent knows Fort Wayne’s strategies thoroughly.

“You kind of try and do what you do better,” Coffman told News-Sentinel.com recently. “Unless you have injuries or unless you are looking at different rotations, things like that, otherwise, I do think that you are over-thinking it.

“At this stage, I think that you become who you are.”

For the Mastodons, who they are is a talented team, which is capable of beating anyone in the Summit League, but can also play so maddeningly inconsistent that they can lose to anyone.

Over the past month, Fort Wayne has been on a basketball roller-coaster.

“We’re all hunting consistency,” Coffman said. “That has been something that we have struggled with this year.”

Since beating Denver soundly on Jan. 6, Fort Wayne has done the following:

• vs. South Dakota – Fort Wayne led by nine in the first half, trailed by 18 in the second half and lost by 10

• vs. Omaha – led by 10 in first half, hung on to win by 4

• at Western Illinois – led by 13 in first half, lost by 1 in overtime

• vs. North Dakota State – trailed by 15 in first half, won by 4

• at South Dakota State – trailed by 17 in first half, rallied and lost by 2

So perhaps the win over Oral Roberts, a game in which Fort Wayne led for the final 30 minutes, was a sign that Coffman’s team is finding its consistency.

“There has been nothing that I didn’t anticipate,” Coffman said. “I’ve been saying since July that I think this group has something special in it. Clearly, we’ve shown that there is something special in it with some of the results that we’ve put out there this year.

“I’ve also said, going back to July, this is a group that is going to have some bumps and bruises.”

That explains why the Mastodons can nearly beat league-leader South Dakota State (20-6, 8-1) on the road; yet also fall to Western Illinois (10-11, 1-7).

“Our process overall has been really good,” Coffman said. “We’ve got to get guys all in the flow. Those are the things that I am hunting for, too.

“Our style continues to work for this group, but it is about consistently executing details, where it works for 40 minutes. When you don’t execute your details, you don’t have great process.”

CRIME REPORT

The Mastodons continue to be one of the nation’s best teams at registering steals, but what is interesting is, they don’t extend their defensive pressure like most would think looking at those numbers.

The Mastodons lead the conference with 8 ½ steals per game and had 11 against the Golden Eagles, but they really do so within the half-court by anticipating passes, getting good ball pressure and adjusting with solid rotations.

“I like where we are defensively,” Coffman said. “We can really rally to get stops and that is what has helped us in these stretches.”

To his point, you can’t just score your way back from being down double-figures to the likes of South Dakota State or North Dakota State, you have to score AND get defensive stops in order to climb back into those types of games.

FINDING HIS SHOT

One of the better performances Thursday was put forth by redshirt junior John Konchar, who was impressive at both ends of the court.

For the first time in this calendar year, Konchar hit half of his shots (he was 7 of 13 overall and 3 of 6 from 3-point range for 21 points). He also passed for seven assists, while the Mastodons connected on an amazing 21 assists on 29 makes.

Defensively, Konchar, who spent the month of January battling a number of health ailments, also totaled five steals.

The threesome of Konchar, Bryson Scott and Kason Harrell combined for 64 points (on 24 of 41 shooting), 17 assists, 9 rebounds and 10 steals.

“This is a group that loves basketball,” Coffman said. “It has a hunger to get better, has a really good focus in terms of wanting to continue to get better.

“I think we are going to be a much better team in February than we were in November. This team still has a ton of growth and we’ve put together some pretty good games this year.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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