The Mastodons look to cash in on the share of last season’s Horizon League regular season crown
Purdue Fort Wayne’s late-season run last year made for a very interesting race at the top of the Horizon League standings. And had it not been for Cleveland State taking the advantage in head-to-head games, the Mastodons would have been the No. 1 seed in Indianapolis and an automatic qualifier for the NIT.
As it stood, though, the Horizon League Tournament semifinals turned out to be the the second-to-last stop on the train last season, falling to Northern Kentucky, 57-43, in one of the rare games where the shots just wouldn’t fall for Purdue Fort Wayne. The Mastodons did, however, get a big to the College Basketball Invitational in Daytona Beach, but that trip was also short-lived, as Drake made quick work of them in the first round, 87-65.
Even in the crowd that it projected to be at the top of the conference this season, Purdue Fort Wayne, by all accounts, should have the advantage in experience. With only Jalon Pipkins gone due to graduation, the Mastodons benefit from having every one of their seniors come back for the extra year granted to them due to COVID.
Add in some key pieces from the bench that were critical to them down the stretch, along with some interesting pickups in the off-season, Purdue Fort Wayne appears to be in the driver’s seat even before the race has even started in the Horizon League.
Some questions do linger for the Mastodons, though, as they enter in the 2022-23 campaign. The first, which is who will replace Pipkins, has essentially been answered. The second, of course, is one that can’t really be addressed until the season tips off, and that’s the question of whether or not Purdue Fort Wayne, even with a seasoned crew, can withstand what will undoubtedly be a fight at the top of the standing from start to finish.
Jerrod Godfrey – The 6-5 superstar guard has already proven himself as one of the elite players in the Horizon League already, as evidenced by his spot on the first team of the all-league standings for 2021-22. While his offensive stats actually compare to his performance from the year before, he exploded on the defensive end, recording 63 steals. Head coach Jon Coffman has relied on his consistency throughout his college career, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to do so this season.
Damian Chong-Qui – The Mount St. Mary’s transfer was, by all accounts, Purdue Fort Wayne’s general on the floor last season. The next step for the 5-8 point guard will now be to expound on that success, likely improving on his 2021-22 stats of 10.1 points and 3.5 assists per game.
Deonte Billups – With Pipkins graduated, it only makes sense that the player who replaces him in the starting lineup is the one who was the first off the bench last season. As the Horizon League Sixth Man of the Year, Billups should have no problem making the transition to the starting five. He was good for and average of 2.1 three-pointers a game, and with the potential to pick up additional minutes this year, those numbers can certainly go up.
Bobby Planutis – Bobby Buckets, as he’s called by his teammates and the Mastodon faithful, can definitely be counted on a few, especially three-pointers, as several conference foes found out the hard way. As part of the Purdue Fort Wayne frontcourt, he will again be called upon to not only produce the shots, but also clean the glass.
Ra Kpedi – The 6-9 big man is considered the Mastodons’ primary rebounds, grabbing 6.3 boards per game last season. While his teammates will likely be called upon to produce the bulk of the scoring, you can bet that Kpedi will take advantage of any mismatches in the paint next year.
JoJo Peterson – Now that Billups is likely to join the starting rotation, the 6-5 sophomore is poised to be the first guard Coffman goes to on the bench to spell his starters. That means he should notch more playing time and, in turn, more opportunities to contribute.
Johnathan DeJurnett – With Cameron Benford graduating, Coffman will call on the 6-8 DeJurnett for more minutes. He will certainly be on board to spot Kpedi in the middle, as well as pick up some experience so he can eventually assume Kpedi’s spot when he graduates.
Quinton Morton-Robertson – Many expected the Radford transfer to see some minutes last season as a complement to Chong Qui and Godfrey. Instead, the 5-8 he redshirted. With this being Chong Qui’s final season, this will be an opportunity for Morton-Robertson to solidify his place as the super senior’s heir apparent. Coffman will also look to him as a shooter off the bench as well, in light of Morton-Robertson leading the Highlander in threes during his last year there.
Anthony Roberts – With Pipkins gone and Billups projected to move into a more prominent role, Coffman looked to the transfer ranks and found some potential in Roberts, who spent his last season at Division II St. Cloud State and led the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in scoring with 20.1 points per contest. He also shot over 47% from the field, as well as snagged 8.3 rebounds per game. How long it takes him to acclimate to the Division I game is likely his only challenge, though Purdue Fort Wayne’s backcourt will be quite the set of role models to learn from.
Deangelo Elisee – Benford’s departure meant that Coffman needed another frontcourt player in the rotation, and delved into the juco ranks where he found the 6-9 Elisee. The junior from the Bahamas averaged 4.4 boards per game with Triton College, and should fit quite well in the Mastodons’ scheme.
On paper, the Horizon League is Purdue Fort Wayne’s to lose. The combination of experience and Coffman’s signature three-point shooting offense will cause even more headaches for conference rivals than it did last year. However, even a few poor-shooting nights and the projected talent at the top of the league could still potentially shut the Mastodons out of the top spot.
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