The milestone was a tough nut, in the end. But finally it cracked.
Finally, the IPFW men’s basketball team pried Western Illinois’ iron grip off its back bumper – finger by finger, it seemed – and then the Mastodons were gone, and that was that Saturday night in the Gates Center.
Scoring 15 of the last 19 points, the Mastodons (18-6, 6-1 Summit League) brushed aside the Leathernecks 77-64, and head coach Tony Jasick was left to ponder history, plus a chaser.
The history part was the 18th win, which tied the school record for victories in the Division I era, set in 2010-11, when the Mastodons went 18-12.
And the chaser?
While the Mastodons were disposing of Western Illinois, North Dakota State, with whom they were tied for first in the Summit League, lost at Denver. Which left IPFW alone at the top.
“At the end of the day, when stuff like that happens, there’s a lot of people who are involved in building a basketball program,” Jasick said of No. 18. “We’ve been able to have a nice year, but there’s so many people who are involved in that stuff, and it’s probably way too early to start talking about it, (because) I think this team can achieve a lot of good things down the stretch.”
Especially if they persevere the way they did Saturday.
The Mastodons never trailed after Luis Jacobo’s 3-pointer gave the Mastodons a 3-2 lead 63 seconds into the game, but the Leathernecks did not go quietly. It was still a two-point game, 62-60, with 6:37 showing, and it looked destined to get even tighter when a missed IPFW shot on the ensuing possession kicked off into the ether.
But Joe Reed managed to pull it out of the sky, then drove for the bucket, drew a foul and dropped the free throw. It kicked off an 8-1 run for the Mastodons, and that kicked off the 15-4 finish.
It was déjÀ vu all over again for IPFW, which finished the first half on a 12-4 burst to take a 41-32 into halftime.
“I think we got some stops,” Jasick said. “But I also think that was an area where our depth helped us. I thought we had good pop, I thought we had good energy late in both halves, and I think that’s probably a credit to our depth.”
Jacobo, who led the Mastodons with 23 points including a career-high six 3s, agreed.
“I think our depth is what gives us a lot of advantages over a lot of teams in this league,” he said. “We almost have 10 players, that’s hard to beat.”
Besides Jacobo, Steve Forbes added 18 and six rebounds, four of them offensive. The Mastodons forced 11 turnovers, outrebounded Western Illinois 32-19 including 12-3 on the offensive end, and turned that into a 17-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Jacobo got the Mastodons out of the gate, scoring 11 of their first 17 points to jump them in front by eight at the 12:44 mark. But Western hung around thanks to the 3-point line, where the Leathernecks stuck five of their first six attempts.
But they made just 3 of 12 from the arc thereafter.
“They’re well-coached, and they put us in a lot bad situations defensively,” Jasick said. “But credit to our guys, I thought we got some stops when we needed them, and we were able to execute some offense during critical situations.”