SOUTH BEND – As shot after shot after shot after shot clanked, rolled off, and sailed over the rim on Tuesday night at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center, Fort Wayne guard Bryson Scott had to have been nauseated by his eventual 0 for 10 shooting performance against the Irish.
In all probability, the only people more sickened than Scott had to have been the poor saps that actually voted for the Mastodons in the two national polls this week.
Fort Wayne played 33 minutes of putrid basketball against the 22nd-ranked Fighting Irish before actually performing to its ability late – but way too late – and lost 87-72 in front of 7,000-plus fans.
The outing was an opportunity for Fort Wayne (7-3) to show a national television audience, as well as those around this state, that it was indeed for real following its recent stunning upset over No. 3-ranked Indiana.
That positive mojo was fun while it lasted, but it’s all but evaporated now.
Tuesday’s game proved to be a wasted opportunity, which is sad, because this is a good program with good players (Scott being one of them) that has to fight for any recognition, be it local, statewide or national, and the Mastodons threw that chance away like they did the basketball on their first possessions of each half.
As good as Fort Wayne played against the Hoosiers, that is how poorly it performed against the Irish.
Aside from a late 7:00-plus stretch of play that only came after trailing by as many as 27 points in the second half, there were little positives to take from Tuesday’s game.
The Mastodons opened the win against Indiana by attacking the Hoosiers with the low-post play of fifth-year senior Brent Calhoun, while against the Irish, they ignored him.
“This group is very elite at paint-touch shots,” third-year Mastodon coach Jon Coffman said following a recent win over Miami (Ohio). “Our percentages have been the best in my tenure.”
I don’t know how many times Calhoun “touched” the ball in his 19 minutes in the paint, but he took just two more shots than the Irish leprechaun did, and that little guy didn’t get in the game.
Calhoun, who turned the ball over to open the game, grabbed eight rebounds, but scored just two points. However, he and Scott (two points scored in 21 minutes) weren’t alone in their ineptitude. This debacle was a team effort.
The threesome of Scott, Mo Evans and Kason Harrell entered the game combining for over 46 points per game, but they missed 20 of their initial 22 shots. And spare me the “Notre Dame is a really good defensive team” garbage.
The three guards got open looks from deep and in the case of Scott, some point-blank bunnies with no Notre Dame defender between him and the rim.
The Irish (9-0) are off to their best start under veteran coach Mike Brey, but they aren’t the Golden State Warriors, Fort Wayne just made them look that way.
With the athleticism that Scott, Evans and forward John Konchar bring to the court as drivers, it’s mind-boggling that the Mastodons managed just eight free throw attempts.
Fort Wayne dug itself a 41-23 hole in the first half, but the halftime break did nothing to solve any of its issues.
The Mastodons opened the second half by giving up a basket to a 6-foot-5, limited athlete (Irish forward Bonzi Colson) and then threw the ball away – all within 14 seconds.
So much for any “halftime adjustments.”
Fort Wayne finally begun to play well late in the game and fought back to within nine points, but it proved futile. The opportunity on Tuesday was gone by then, and big picture-wise, so is the chance to build on the Indiana win.
The Mastodons needed to play well – even in a loss – and show what they are truly capable of and that definitely did not happen.
There remains a lot to play for this season. Tuesday’s loss was seismic in awareness, but only counts as one defeat in the actual standings. Fort Wayne can still win its league. It can still advance to the postseason, but it will do so in the shadows, as it has always done.
The opportunities to shine are rare for a program like Fort Wayne, and this one has come and gone.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.
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