Mastodons seeking ‘consistency’ to close regular season Fort Wayne struggling defensively this year.

The question for the Fort Wayne men’s basketball team in regards to its upcoming trip to Sioux Falls, S.D. for the Summit League Tournament isn’t “Will the tournament be tough for the Mastodons to win?”

Yes, is the definitive answer.

But really the question is “How tough will the tournament be for the Mastodons to win it?”

And that remains to be seen based on how Fort Wayne finishes its regular season over the next 72 hours.

The Mastodons (18-10, 7-7 Summit League) will visit IUPUI (12-16, 6-8) at 7 tonight.

Fort Wayne will hit the road to play the Jaguars and then close its regular season at Western Illinois Saturday, and it is conceivable that the Mastodons could win both games. Or lose both games.

“There are some teams that have a little bit more experience,” third-year coach Jon Coffman told The News-Sentinel recently. “But any single night you can be up 15 and then seven, eight minutes later you can be down 10.”

Especially when a team’s defensive play has been as inconsistent as the Mastodons’ has been.

When Fort Wayne defends well, which it did in recent games against North Dakota State (the Bison shot just 40.4 percent) and Omaha (42.1 percent allowed), the Mastodons generally win.

When Fort Wayne doesn’t defend well, as it did not in recent home games against South Dakota (56.5 percent) and South Dakota State (53 percent), the Mastodons generally lose. The formula for success for Fort Wayne hasn’t been difficult to figure out, it has just been challenging to implement this season. Overall, the Mastodons are the best offensive team in the conference, but it is among the worst defensively.

“We need consistency with details,” Coffman said. “We’re never going to be perfect, so more consistency is always going to evolve into more success on the floor.”

The only “consistent” aspect to Coffman’s team this season has been its inconsistency.

Within the Summit League, the Mastodons lost one game and then won four to open the conference season.

They then lost three straight games, but responded with two victories.

Fort Wayne then lost a couple of games, but bounced back with a pair of wins, before losing by eight – at home – to South Dakota State recently, a game in which it allowed Jackrabbit scorer Mike Daum to light it up for 51 points (the most in the NCAA this season).

“The details become even more critical,” Coffman explained, “because (winning) is less about this play or that play, because everybody knows everybody’s plays. It’s about executing your details, being able to operate when something breaks down, can you execute your principles?”

At times, yes, Fort Wayne can.

Other times? Not so much.

Fort Wayne is currently in fifth place in the conference, one game behind Denver (8-7) and Omaha (8-7), a half game ahead of South Dakota State (7-8), one game ahead of IUPUI (6-8), and two games up on Western Illinois. In essence, it is a jumbled puzzle of equality that will be resolved over the next three days.

The Mastodons may finish as high as third (making, in theory, for a somewhat smoother tournament opener) or as low as eighth (i.e. more difficult).

Coffman actually doesn’t feel there is much difference between which team wins the league and last-place Oral Roberts, a team that has beaten possible league champ South Dakota, South Dakota State, IUPUI, and Omaha already this year.

“If we drop games,” Coffman said of closing the regular season with losses, “that doesn’t eliminate us from winning the tournament, because we have the talent base. We want to be in a great mindset, and practicing a great mindset, with no distractions, just having a total commitment to our group.

“Win or lose, as we go down the stretch, we need focus on how we can get better today.”

Particularly defensively. <br>

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