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The IPFW men's basketball team had to deal with a lot of frustration and distractions Saturday, and that was just the stuff heaped on the players by their coach. But in the end, the Mastodon players battled through the adversity from the minute they awoke through the final buzzer of their game at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) and prevailed 80-69.
The victory was the first in a three-game series in Canada, which continues with a game tonight at York University (Toronto) at 6 p.m.
“I'm really proud of the focus that our team had today,” IPFW coach Jon Coffman said in a phone interview with The News-Sentinel.
Outside of the actual game itself, Coffman wanted his team distracted and their ability to focus challenged. But once the game started, and the team was playing under FIBA rules, which included among other things, aggressive post defense and a 24-second shot clock, the team was able to keep working through the challenges and played its best basketball late.
“They could have gotten frustrated with the different rules,” Coffman said. “But they didn't. They figured out a way to compete under the rules.”
Coffman had his team get up early Saturday and go through a training session to develop their ability to focus with performance enhancement coach Ken Werz. The Mastodons then hit the road – literally.
“We purposefully created as many distractions as we could throughout the day,” Coffman said.
The Mastodon coaches and players walked the streets of Toronto seeing various sights before “getting on a bus for (90 minutes), getting off and playing a game.”
That alone would have excused a slow start, but adjusting to the press applied by McMaster (which ranked 5th in Canada last year), as well as an up-tempo game created by the shot clock, was too much for IPFW early.
“We were not able to play our style of basketball,” Coffman said. “You don't get a lot of time for pre-motion offense. You've got to get into a scoring scenario really quickly.”
The Mastodons didn't do a lot of that through the first two quarters and had just 25 points at halftime. That continued through the third quarter and when the final period opened up, IPFW still trailed 56-49.
“It was an NBA style of play,” Coffman said. “That's different than we've practiced over the last 10 days and it's different than we play.”
The game turned into a “pass-and-catch game” over the final quarter and IPFW began clicking offensively. The Mastodons outscored McMaster 31-13 in the final period, and they did it without a number of their more experienced players in the game.
One of the objectives of this trip for Coffman was to get everyone a lot of playing time to see which player could perform. Coffman utilized 11 players (junior forward Jure Gunjina didn't play due to an ankle injury), and down the stretch guys like freshman John Konchar, redshirt junior Herbert Graham, redshirt senior Kevin Harden, and redshirt sophomore Brent Calhoun were getting time.
“I had confidence in those guys,” Coffman said. “We were playing to win, but I was also playing to put some players that have not been in those situations in an IPFW uniform in those positions.”
The Mastodons didn't rebound great, but certain players did. Harden grabbed six rebounds, as did forward Joe Reed (seven points) and center Steve Forbes (19 points).
IPFW didn't shoot the ball well from 3-point range (just 3 of 17), but did connect on 48 percent of their attempts from the field and were paced by Forbes, Michael Calder (14 points), Mo Evans (11 points), and Calhoun (eight points).
The Mastodons got 58 points inside the paint, but “turned the ball over too much” and had just nine assists (only one from a point guard).
“Ultimately, it was a successful transition of a game,” Coffman said.
Coffman was pleased with a number of individual performances in Saturday's victory. Here are some insights into the coach's thoughts on who played well.
* Junior college transfer Calder had a strong first outing for the Dons. In just 17 minutes of action, he scored 14 points and turned the ball over just two times.
“He was good,” Coffman said. “He was really good down the stretch.”
* Calhoun was stuck behind Forbes throughout his first season last year (and will be to a degree this year), but played well in a limited role. The 6-foot-8 post had eight points in just 11 minutes.
“He was really good in the first half,” Coffman said.
* Graham had a balanced night. He finished with four rebounds and shot 1 for 2 from the floor, including hitting his lone 3-point attempt.
“Herb did a nice job,” Coffman said. “I'm looking at the stat sheet and I probably should've played him more minutes.”
* It remains to be seen whether freshman guard John Konchar will get time this year or be a redshirt candidate, but he's making his case for getting on the floor early.
“(Konchar) looked really good,” Coffman said. “He had a turnover late, where he wasn't strong with the ball. But he really passes the ball well. He did a really nice job and I'm proud of his play for a freshman. He's got to get more aggressive, but I thought he did really, really well for us.”
* It's been awhile since Harden has been in the conscience of IPFW fans, as he has battled injuries over the past couple of seasons. However, if Mastodon fans remember, the guy can rebound from the guard spot as well as anyone on the team. That continued Saturday, as he grabbed a team-best six boards.
“Kevin has a great nose for the ball,” Coffman said. “He just goes outside of his area and gets it and catches balls.”
* The Mastodons may be without two players tonight. Gunjina was out with an ankle injury, while senior guard Isaiah McCray was hurt on a drive and got his legs taken out from under him.
“He got undercut and he went down hard,” Coffman said.
The play ended McCray's night after just 10 minutes of action, which resulted in Evans playing 30 minutes, which was about 6 to 8 more than Coffman wanted to play his talented sophomore. Both Gunjina and McCray are “game time decisions” for tonight's game, according to Coffman.