Jon Coffman searched for answers Sunday in the aftermath of IPFW’s loss to Summit League bottom feeder IUPUI. The first-year head coach couldn’t pinpoint what had afflicted the Mastodons, but something was plaguing the team.
As Coffman pondered, he admitted part of the problem was mental. Six losses in eight games, including an 0-2 start in the conference, led to questions about the preseason Summit League favorite spiraling to a lost season.
That chatter was silenced Thursday night.
As temperatures plunged and snow fell outside the Gates Sports Center, IPFW shot a blistering 55 percent and overwhelmed Denver with a zone defense, en route to a 69-53 win.
"They didn’t accept what we put on the floor last weekend," Coffman said. "We came in and worked. We got better. We worked on resilience, we worked on grit, we worked on fighting (through adversity), we worked on our energy."
It was a statement to the conference that IPFW (8-8, 1-2 Summit) isn’t surrendering and also a declaration to the Mastodons themselves, evidence that all those newspaper clippings from October and November have merit.
"We were reading too much of the press, us being picked first in the league," sophomore guard Mo Evans said. "We forgot that they don’t just give (championships out). You have to work for those and come together in practice to build chemistry."
Evans helped quell the doomsday scenarios by scoring a game-high 16 points. He was 3 of 4 from beyond the arc after experiencing the biggest slump of his young career. After making 45 percent of his 3s a year ago, Evans entered the night 4 for his last 19 as his season percentage fell below 30 percent.
Missed shots translated to poor defense, earning Evans an extended seat on the bench in the IUPUI game. He got the hint and spent extra time in the gym after practice this week.
"It showed," Evans said.
Max Landis scored 13 points and Joe Reed had 12 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Steve Forbes scored seven points in 18 minutes, but his offensive production wasn’t needed.
IPFW, which led by as many as 21, shot 55 percent from the field and 58 percent from 3-point range. The Mastodons were 18 of 19 from the free throw line.
Denver, the Summit’s preseason No. 2, made 12 of 26 3s but was unable to use screens to settle into its Princeton offense. IPFW’s zone befuddled the Pioneers (7-9, 1-2) from the get-go. They attempted only 13 two-point baskets.
"We worked on it all week," Reed said. "We planned on mixing it up, but the zone was working for us so we stayed with it. Our zone is different than other zones. You have to work really hard in it. Tonight it showed if you work hard, you’ll stop plays."
IPFW turned 13 Denver turnovers into 19 points. The Mastodons held an 11-point advantage in second-chance points and points off turnovers. However, the most striking difference came in rebounds: IPFW 28, Denver 10.
The Pioneers didn’t record their first rebound until the 9:39 mark of the first half.
Ninety-six hours after a sobering defeat, IPFW’s 40-minute complete performance against Denver served as a memo to the Summit League’s offices in Elmhurst, Illinois.
"We didn’t start off conference season the way we wanted to," Reed said. "This was big for us to get us going.
"We see what we need to do now. We fixed some things and really feel confident."