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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 5:56 pm

Mastodons mired in mediocrity

Kyle Rowland The Journal Gazette

Three days is a lifetime when it comes to mid-season practices. That’s a good thing for IPFW, which is teetering on the edge of the proverbial cliff.

The Mastodons (7-8) have lost six of their past eight games and started the Summit League schedule 0-2. Sunday’s loss to IUPUI could represent rock bottom, with the days since being a rebuilding period. 

October came with promise. IPFW won a program-record 25 games last season and lost by three points in the conference championship game to North Dakota State, a team that put on the glass slipper in the NCAA tournament by upending higher-seeded Oklahoma. The 2014-15 campaign hasn’t always gone as planned, though.

"Some of the hype around this program was built up by the media," IPFW coach Jon Coffman said. "The coaches respect it. We’ve got some good players coming back. But at the end of the day, we did lose some good players off last year’s squad. We need to have some great leadership from our returners, who are very good players."

Those returners have failed to show up in recent games. Preseason conference player of the year Steve Forbes, a 6-foot-9, 295-pound immovable object, has 11 points, nine rebounds, six turnovers, one blocked shot and nine fouls in two Summit League games. He was 0 of 5 from the field against IUPUI.

Forbes began the year with authority, as expected. But following an injury that caused him to miss three games, he hasn’t been the same force.

"He’s a good player," Coffman said. "I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had 25 (against IUPUI). But we need to have more output from Steve, and we’ve got to get him the ball more."

Mo Evans, last season’s conference sixth man of the year, is shooting 29 percent from 3-point range after he made 45 percent a year ago.

Injuries, poor shooting and bad luck have plagued IPFW. Denver isn’t the ideal opponent to correct flaws against. The Pioneers (7-8, 1-1) held up against a rugged non-conference schedule and figure to be a contender for the Summit League title. They shoot nearly 50 percent, putting a premium on IPFW’s defensive energy. It’ll be a test in endurance and resolve for the Mastodons. Coffman admitted some issues lie between the ears.

"It’s a wake-up call for us," senior Joe Edwards said. "No matter what they throw at us, we have to play through it. We have to play our game. It’s put us off track. We’re in a little funk, and we have to get out of it."

In hairy situations last season, Pierre Bland, Luis Jacobo and Michael Kibiloski took charge. It remains to be seen if the same leadership resides in this team’s locker room.

"I’m talking about coming out every minute and playing with enthusiasm, some grit and fire and competing," Coffman said. "We’ve got to get there. We’ve got to fix it."

krowland@jg.net