Fort Wayne rally isn’t enough to climb out of seismic early hole

Fort Wayne guard Bryson Scott gets defended by North Dakota State defender Chris Quayle at the 2018 Summit League Tournament at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo by Dick Carlson/Inertia)
North Dakota State's Tyson Ward guards Fort Wayne's John Konchar at the 2018 Summit League Tournament at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo by Dick Carlson/Inertia)
North Dakota State's Paul Miller drives against Fort Wayne's Kason Harrell at the 2018 Summit League Tournament at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo by Dick Carlson/Inertia)

Fort Wayne men’s basketball coach Jon Coffman spoke recently of the necessity for his team to make “winning plays” in its opening game of the Summit League Tournament against North Dakota State Sunday in Sioux Falls, S.D. However, for far too much of the outing it was the Bison that made successful plays and ultimately came away with an 86-82 win.

It was the second consecutive year in which the Mastodons (18-14) dropped their opening game of the postseason.

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“At the end of the day,” Coffman told prior to the game, “this is a toughness game.”

Fort Wayne had been tough enough to beat North Dakota State (15-16) twice this season, but the Mastodons opened Sunday’s game by allowing the Bison to lead 49-31 at halftime and eventually stretch that margin to 23 points early in the second half.

North Dakota State hit 56 percent of its shots in building its huge lead, including 7 of 13 (52.4 percent) from 3-point range, which Coffman knew beforehand would be critical to beating the Bison.

“You’ve got to be able to defend the arc,” Coffman said.

North Dakota State had made at least 47 percent of its long shots in each of its 14 victories prior to Sunday, and totaled 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) against Fort Wayne.

Sunday’s game was eerily similar to a 92-88 Mastodon win over the Bison in Fort Wayne in January.

North Dakota State shot 53 percent from beyond the arc in the opening half of that game and led by as many as 15, but Fort Wayne utilized better play in the second half to fight back for the win.

On Sunday, the same storyline unfolded. For awhile.

Trailing by 23 with 16:48 left in the game, the Mastodons began to make shots and get defensive stops. They took off on a 33-15 run over the next 10 minutes and eventually trailed 81-80 with 1:29 remaining. However, Fort Wayne didn’t make “winning plays” from that point forward. In fact, it played poorly, as it turned the ball over on consecutive possessions with the game hanging in the balance.

“Every player on our team is hunting one more winning play,” Coffman said of his team’s mindset as it headed into the postseason.

Another key component to success that the Mastodons failed to achieve was in making Bison guard “Paul Miller inefficient,” as Coffman noted needed to be done.

Miller made half of his 18 shots (5 of 8 from 3-point range) and finished with a team-high 29 points.

“He is one of the top scorers in our league,” Coffman said. “Their two playmakers are Cameron Hunter and Paul Miller and you’ve got to do a good job of controlling them and managing them.”

Hunter missed all five of his shots, but AJ Jacobsen and Tyson Ward were effective enough to combine for 25 points.

The Mastodons made six of their final eight shot attempts, and didn’t allow the Bison to make a field goal in the final 3:22, but fighting out of that massive hole proved too difficult of a task to complete.

“It’s a small margin league,” Coffman said of the conference.

Fort Wayne guards Bryson Scott and John Konchar each scored 29 points, while Konchar added 12 rebounds and six assists.

The two made 22 of their team’s 29 shots, while the other six Mastodons combined to connect on just 7 of 21 shots.

The Mastodons didn’t do a lot of things very well Sunday and that included sharing the basketball.

Of Fort Wayne’s 29 baskets, only 11 came with an assist.

The Mastodons will now wait to see if they receive their third consecutive postseason tournament bid.

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