The Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons sat at 11-10 and 6-6 in conference on January 30th after back to back losses to Northern Kentucky and Wright State. Since then, the Mastodons reeled off nine straight regular season wins capped off by a 81-78 win over Detroit Mercy on Saturday. The win not only vaulted the Mastodons to the number two seed in the Horizon Tournament, it also gave them a share of the regular season title. As the two seed, Purdue Fort Wayne earned a first-round bye before opening their tourney run against No. 8 University of Illinois-Chicago at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night.
The Mastodons jumped out early on Saturday, jumping out to an 11-0 lead, and leading 13-5 at the under 16 media timeout. Purdue Fort Wayne led by as many as 16 in the first half before taking a 45-37 lead into the locker room. The first-half lead was largely buoyed by the Mastodons’ shooting 18-25 (75%) from the field and 6-of-9 (66%) from three. Detroit was able to trim the lead to eight by closing the half on a 9-2 run.
The second half started with teams trading buckets with PFW maintaining a 7 point lead for the first 10 minutes. After the under 8 timeout, Detroit was able to cut Purdue Fort Wayne lead to one on multiple occasions but were never able to take the lead. After Detroit tied the game at 71 with just under five minutes to go, the Mastodons used a 7-0 run to go ahead for good, winning the game, 81-78.
The game Thursday started off as a back and forth affair with both teams trading buckets. After trailing 10-7 at the under 16 media timeout, PFW used a 16-1 run to vault them ahead giving them a 23-11 lead at the under-12 media timeout, paced by a barrage of turnovers forced by the Mastodons, as they forced a turnover on five consecutive possessions. Purdue Fort Wayne would maintain a double-digit lead for the remainder of the first half, leading by as many as 17 before taking a 13-point lead into the locker room at 42-29.
Similar to what happened on Saturday night in their season finale, the Mastodons started slow in the second half and a solid stretch by UIC cut the lead to 54-48 at the second half under-12 media time out. The Flames hit a three out of the media timeout to cut the PFW lead to three, but were not able to get closer than two before the under 8 time out.
The Flames tied the game at 58 with a little over six minutes to play, and even took a brief 61-60 lead with 5:23 to play. Similar to what happened in the first half, the Mastodons tightened up the defense and went on a game sealing 11-2 run over the next three and a half minutes before ultimately salting the game away with free throws, winning the game 78-72.
The Mastodons were paced in the game by Jarred Godfey, who scored 22 points and Jalon Pipkins, who contributed 21 points. Similar to the game on Saturday night, Purdue Fort Wayne shot the three ball very well in the first half, going 5-8 from deep. Although they shot 1-5 from three in the second half they made it up at the foul line, shooting 13-15 from the charity stripe. This was a welcomed improvement from Saturday, where they shot 9-17 in the second half against Detroit Mercy. Another key difference in the game were points off turnovers, the Mastodons were able to score 20 points off of 16 Flames turnovers, while also holding a 40-26 advantage in points in the paint.
Up next for Purdue Fort Wayne is Indianapolis, where the Mastodons will take on the third -eeded Northern Kentucky Norse, in the Horizon league semifinals on Monday at 9:30pm. The two teams split the series during the regular season, with each team holding serve on their home floor. The Mastodons won 71-57 on December 4th, before the Norse returned the favor 59-49 on January 29th. A win in this game will get the Mastodons one step closer to that elusive first trip to March Madness. With the loss, UIC closes out their time in the Horizon League as they will be leaving for the Missouri Valley Conference.