It was just five days ago when Fort Wayne men’s basketball coach Jon Coffman was preaching the importance of team achievement.
“Every win is absolutely critical and tough,” Coffman said after his team beat Oral Roberts at the Gates Sports Center. “You need to take care of home court.”
That isn’t a lesson that applies to just the Mastodons, it is relevant to every basketball team at every level. The players and coaches for Omaha’s program get that, as well, and so they will certainly do everything in their power to prevent Fort Wayne from winning its second straight Summit League game tonight.
The Mastodons (11-4, 1-1 SL) will visit the Mavericks (7-8, 0-2) today at 8 p.m. (ESPN 1380 AM/100.9 FM).
All of the numbers indicate that Fort Wayne should win the game. The Mastodons have the better record, as well as they are the best 3-point shooting team in the country. But Coffman doesn’t see having success tonight – or any night for that matter - as an easy task.
Omaha is 3-1 in its home games this season and it has relied on strong offense at home to lift it.
The Mavericks are shooting 10 percentage points higher, both overall and from 3-point range, at home, and twice have scored over 100 points.
“There are going to be a lot of losses in this year’s league,” Coffman said. “There is a lot of parity in this year’s league.”
That was evident on day one of Fort Wayne’s conference schedule, when Western Illinois came to the Gates Center and beat the Mastodons. Despite that loss, Coffman wasn’t dwelling on it, nor was he relishing the ensuing win over Oral Roberts much either.
“We’re down one,” Coffman explained, “but you can drive yourself absolutely insane if you look behind, if you look forward, you’ve just got to take care of business.”
Which is what Fort Wayne has done this season - for the most part.
The Mastodons rank eighth in the nation in 3-pointers made (they had 20 makes against Oral Roberts), as well as overall field goal shooting. But it is that 43.1 percent from long range that is incredibly impressive. However, as remarkable as that statistic is, Coffman would be the first to tell you that he is more pleased with the fact that this team is doing a great job of sharing the basketball.
Not only are the Mastodons the best shooting team in the Summit League, they are also the best passing team. Fort Wayne is averaging over 16 assists per game (on just over 30 made shots per game), which ranks as the best in the conference.
“The reality of it is,” Coffman said, “is that we have a group that I really like the way that they are developing. We didn’t have a lot of hiccups in the preseason.”
Fort Wayne opened its league schedule with a “hiccup” against Western Illinois, which could prove to be beneficial because it allowed the inexperienced Mastodons to learn the level of focus needed within the league.
Fort Wayne has two starters (Kason Harrell and Bryson Scott), who have virtually no Summit League experience between them, while senior starter Mo Evans sat out last year’s conference season for the most part due to an academic issue.
Fort Wayne reserves Jordan King, Charles Ruise Jr., Xzavier Taylor and Racine Talla also all have little to no conference experience among them either.
“Some of the guys that are in our top six or seven,” Coffman said, “those are guys that really haven’t played through the league. So having some hiccups, that is a reality. Do I want it? No. I’d love to learn lessons without losses, but it is what it is. Now, we’ve got to man up and go on the road to play Omaha, which is one of the best teams in our league, in terms of returning guys.”