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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 1:18 pm

Next up: Summit League tournament

Kyle Rowland | The Journal Gazette

Now the real season begins.

IPFW began the 2014-15 season as the Summit League’s favorite to win the conference championship and capture the No. 1 seed for conference tournament in Sioux Falls. And those were two of the Mastodons’ biggest goals.

Neither happened.

But don’t feel too sorry for IPFW, because it isn’t shedding any tears over its current situation. Sure, they would have liked to have won more than 16 regular season games and finished higher in the conference standings. However, in a one-bid league regular season banners are irrelevant.

It’s all about the NCAA tournament. And as the calendar flips to March, IPFW’s ultimate goal – the program’s first foray into March Madness – remains in striking distance. 

The Mastodons will be the No. 4 seed in the Summit League tournament and will play fifth-seeded South Dakota at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“This team is exactly where it needs to be,” senior guard Isaiah McCray said. “We had hiccups early – lots of hiccups. With us going on our win streak, it showed how we can be really good as a team.

“Moving into the conference tournament, we’re really confident. It’s do-or-die, and we realize that. We can’t have any losses or hiccups. We have to play every game like it’s our last.”

The fourth-seeded Mastodons enter the Summit League tournament playing its best basketball of the season. They’ve won eight of 10 and delivered one of their most complete performances of the season on Saturday night, defeating Western Illinois 84-64.

Six players scored in double figures, IPFW assisted on 18 of 31 field goals and shot 50 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point range.

“We’ve had a couple games that have been of that caliber,” IPFW coach Jon Coffman said. “We did a nice job tonight.”

The current iteration of the Mastodons looks nothing like the group that sleepwalked through portions of December and January and found themselves in last place in the conference.

Six weeks later, IPFW is nearing a foreign land it’s never traversed.

krowland@jg.net