Every season, Horizon League teams go into the non-conference slate eying their opponents from various power conferences seeking an upset. And when they find the right conditions, as Wright State did against Louisville last season and Oakland did versus Oklahoma State the year before, the victories reverberate across the conference.
Two days into the new season, the conditions have become ideal once again, as Purdue Fort Wayne, no strangers to upsets (see: back-to-back wins against Indiana) used stifling defense and the steady hand of its point guard, Quentin Morton-Robertson, transfers Rasheed Bello and Jalen Jackson, and freshman Corey Hadnot, to topple Big East foe DePaul, 82-74.
Defensively, the Mastodons set the tone early, snatching the ball from the Blue Demons 10 times in the first half. At one point, Purdue Fort Wayne sported a 13-point lead on DePaul with 10:27 left in the half. Hadnot, during the frame, made two nearly identical highlight real plays in which he stole the ball and scampered down the court for an easy dunk. By halftime, the Mastodons held a comfortable 41-33 lead.
In the second half, the Blue Demons, whose experience with Horizon League teams has included a few close calls over the years, tightened up in the second half, determined to make this contest yet another near miss. DePaul finally took the lead on a Jaden Henley layup. The lead was short-lived, however, as a seven-point run, capped by Valpo transfer Maximus Nelson’s three-pointer, put Purdue Fort Wayne back on top.
The Blue Demons regrouped and amassed a run of their own and, with a trey from Chico Carter, Jr. and a shot by Da’Sean Nelson, seemed poised to put the game away with the DePaul sitting on a six-point advantage.
The Mastodons, however, wouldn’t be denied, and as part of a 14-2 run, Hadnot’s three allowed PFW to re-take the lead, and the Mastodons never looked back.
Morton-Robertson, who was one of the few returning Purdue Fort Wayne players from a season ago, led the Dons with 24 points, including a stellar 4-for-4 from beyond the arc. Bello, a Chicago native who, coincidentally, played his high school ball a DePaul Prep, had an impressive debut in a PFW uniform, scoring 15 points, grabbing six boards and notching three assists.
Jackson, the Fort Wayne native who spent last season in the Windy City as a part of UIC, added 13 points, a team-high eight rebounds and three assists before fouling out. And Anthony Roberts, who, like Morton-Robertson, is one of the Mastodon holdovers from a season ago, chipped in 13 points and stole the ball four times.
It may be too early to crumple up the paper that contains everyone’s preseason predictions as to how the Dons will fare this season, but at first glance, the roster that head coach Jon Coffman touted in the run-up to the season opener has already passed its first test. As other Horizon League teams spent their openers coming short of victories, the PFW win may very well be a sign of something fans have seen before, which is a team that shines while being underestimated.
Next up for Purdue Fort Wayne is its first home contest, where the Mastodons will take on an non-D1 opponent, Andrews, a school based in Berrien Springs, Michigan that plays in the USCAA.