FORT WAYNE – With IPFW primed to play Oakland for the third time inside of three weeks, it appears as though the sneaker is on the other foot.
They meet again at 7 p.m. Sunday in the first round of the Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D. And while Oakland (16-15, 10-6 Summit) is the No. 4 seed and IPFW (15-16, 7-9) the No. 5, it’s the Mastodons who enter with the streak and the swagger.
It was Feb. 20 when the visiting Grizzlies stepped onto the Memorial Coliseum floor with a seven-game winning streak in their back pocket and a history of thumping IPFW. But IPFW won that night, 77-71, ending a 10-game losing streak to the Grizzlies. Less than two weeks later, IPFW went to Oakland’s place and won there, too, 74-72.
So now it’s IPFW that brings a world of confidence and a five-game winning streak into a tournament where three consecutive victories will send it into the NCAA tournament.
We’re definitely in a confident state, but also at the same time, we’re not overlooking them, said junior forward Luis Jacobo, who scored 21 points at Oakland. Just because we beat them twice doesn’t mean anything. They win this next game, we still lose. You still have that antsy feeling that you could go home in the next game, so that makes us want to play even harder.
But coach Tony Jasick says it’s not just playing hard that has enabled IPFW to end the regular season on a high note.
Off the digits of his right hand, he counted the ways.
We stopped turning the ball over, he said, thumb extended. We stopped taking bad shots. And we continue to improve on the defensive end. We’ve been OK defensively for most of the year, but we’ve continued to grow. Those three things have been a work in progress, and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor the last month and a half, when we’ve been playing really well.
Except for the 26-blowout at South Dakota State, where IPFW shot 42 percent and the Jackrabbits shot 55, the Mastodons have stayed within an arm’s reach of their opponents this season.
There was a 14-point loss at IUPUI, but a month later, IPFW beat the Jaguars in overtime. There was the four-point home loss to UMKC, but then the five-point win in Kansas City. And that 26-point drubbing they took at South Dakota State? That gap was narrowed to six in an 80-74 loss.
I think we’re playing the game the right away, said Jasick, in his second season as the head coach. When you do that, it becomes fun to play. Guys are fun to be around. We’re in a pretty good frame of mind. That being said, I do think there still a little bit of fire in us. We’re excited to play.