It began 2 1/2 weeks before Thanksgiving, with Dayton’s Jordan Sibert sending up a prayer of a 3-pointer that beat the horn and the IPFW Mastodons by a slender point.
It ended 4 1/2 months later, with a whole host of prayers going unanswered as the Mastodons missed 17 of 21 3s of their own in a 106-95 loss to VMI in the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament.
Two “L’s” to bookend the 2013-14 men’s basketball season. And, placed on the shelf between them, a whole lot of classic literature, as it were.
There were a Division I school-record 25 wins and landmark “W’s” at Bowling Green and Bradley, and precedent shattering like cheap crystal. A first-ever appearance in the Summit League Tournament championship game, where the Mastodons fell just three points shy of a first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. A first-ever Division I postseason bid in the CIT, and then a first-ever postseason victory over Akron.
“Couldn’t be prouder of our team,” IPFW coach Tony Jasick said when that one was over. “And when I say team, I mean the IPFW team: Players, our coaches, our marketing people, our ticketing people, our athletic administration, our university administration for allowing it. I thought that that was an unbelievable event for our kids. Everybody involved needs a pat on the back.”
That would, of course, begin with the players, a collection of individual parts who formed an utterly complementary whole. Jasick built an unselfish, inside-out offense around 6-foot-9, 295-pound junior Steve Forbes (“The centerpiece of our team,” Luis Jacobo called him) and every other piece fell neatly into place around him.
Pierre Bland ran the show from the point, where he averaged 9.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists. Jacobo led the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and 3-pointers. And Forbes and sixth man Joe Reed took care of matters on the low blocks, averaging 20.2 points and 10.6 rebounds between them.
Then there was freshman Mo Evans, the reigniter off the bench who killed South Dakota State in the conference semis with six 3s, and finished the season with 64.
They all composed a team that made the extra pass, knocked down the shots that created and played hard from tip to horn. And made the kind of history Jasick often downplayed while it was going on but knew was the legacy of many.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people who are involved in building a basketball program,” he said after IPFW beat Western Illinois on Feb. 1 to tie the school record for Division I wins. “Obviously a lot of the stuff we’re talking about now deals with the Division I era, but we’ve got a lot of guys in town that helped build this thing, that still support us, that played during the Division II years.
“Coach (Doug) Noll, when we went to Division I, he was playing with a different stack of cards and laid the foundation, got it started. Dane Fife, I was lucky to spend six great years with him. There’s so many people involved.”