The CIT is a lesser-known consolation tourney, and sometimes it’s hard to produce the needed energy.
“You pour your heart and soul into the NCAA Tournament, trying to get there in the league tournament,” Coffman said. “It’s what you’re striving for. There’s some disappointment you have to come back from.”
Coffman said he talked with Ball State coach James Whitford two days earlier. They’re coaching friends and they agreed. The team with more "juice" – more energy, more drive – would end up the winner.
For three-fourths of the game, Ball State brought the juice. Over the last 10 minutes, in what turned out to be the critical 10 minutes, the Mastodons showed they had more left in the tank.
Fort Wayne won by feeding big man Brent Calhoun, who hit 12 of 16 shots for a career-high 27 points. They won with the ball-handling vision of Mo Evans (12 assists with only two turnovers, along with 15 points). They won with Bryson Scott overcoming an 0-for-6 shooting, out-of-sync start to finish with 13 points and nine rebounds.
The Mastodons (20-12) will wait until at least later Thursday to find out who they play next, and where.
It’s tough to pick out the pivotal play that turned the opening game in Fort Wayne’s favor.
Maybe it was the three-point play off an Evans-to-Calhoun entry pass that cut the Ball State lead to a single point. Maybe it was the Scott three-pointer – his only made three of the game – that gave the Mastodons a 65-63 lead it never relinquished.
Maybe it was a John Konchar three, an Evans three, a Calhoun block. Maybe it was the constant pounding of Calhoun inside, wearing Ball State’s younger inside defenders down.
“At halftime, we talked about playing with more energy and playing together,” Calhoun said. “We were out of rhythm in the first half. We came out the second half firing on all cylinders.”
They came out with more juice, in other words.
While the contributions came from everywhere, Calhoun earned Most Valuable Player of the Game known as the Lou Henson Classic. He wore the Cardinals out.
“He’s what we call a real estate guy,” Whitford said. “It’s like a house that’s on ocean-front property. It’s worth $5 million. But the same house six blocks inland is worth a tenth the price. Calhoun, put him in the area on the blocks, he’s worth a million bucks. Make him catch it off the water, he’s not as effective, like most big guys.”
The Cardinals, playing without injured center Trey Moses, couldn’t push Calhoun inland.
The more Calhoun planted in the post, the more Evans found him, the more he scored. His confidence soared.
“He played a great game, he got hot and they went to him every play,” Ball State freshman center Tahjai Teague said. “It seemed like he could have thrown it up backward and it would go in.”
Ball State freshman Kyle Mallers, from Carroll High School, returned to his hometown to play in front of family, friends and a grandmother who hadn’t been able to travel to Muncie to see him play this season. Mallers hit the only shot he took, a three-pointer.
“This was probably one of our not-so-good games of the year,” Mallers said. “It was a little bit of motivation (issue). After making the semifinals of the MAC tournament, it’s tough. They’re a pretty good team, especially offensively.”
Whitford said he was disappointed in Ball State’s performance. The Cardinals end the season 21-13 and on a down note after winning six of eight entering Wednesday’s game. Tayler Persons led Ball State with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“We did not play together,” Whitford said. “We did not share the ball.”
The win was Fort Wayne’s first over Ball State in five meetings. The two schools had not met in men’s basketball since 2008. The Mastodons recorded a second-straight 20-win season, a school first in NCAA Division I play. Six Mastodons scored in double figures: Calhoun (27), Evans (15), Scott (13), Konchar (11), Xzavier Taylor (11) and Kason Harrell (11).
“This is a very big deal for us, our second postseason win in school history,” Calhoun said. “We’re looking to extend that and keep it going.”
From the looks of the finish against Ball State, the Mastodons just might have the necessary juice to keep moving on.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.