Redhawk hoops to have hands full with one of Midwest's best

Then-Southeast Missouri State freshman guard Evan Eursher defends against Purdue Fort Wayne last season at the Show Me Center. The two teams will meet Saturday for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
Tom Davis ~

Without question, 10th-year Purdue Fort Wayne men’s basketball coach Jon Coffman is going to be less sympathetic to his Southeast Missouri State counterpart, fourth-year Redhawk coach Brad Korn, at 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN+) when the two teams meet at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.

However, as Coffman prepped for the match-up, which has become a pseudo-annual series between the two programs of late, his heart did go out to Korn a bit.

“Have you seen their schedule,” Coffman said, “it’s tough.”

That SEMO schedule, which has wrought a 3-6 record, has involved five road games and battles at Grand Canyon, Butler, Chattanooga, and facing the best Evansville squad in years, twice.

“They have players who are explosive,” Coffman said, “and they run good stuff.”

The same can be said of the Mastodons (9-1), who are off to the best start in the two-plus decades that the program has been competing at the NCAA Division I level.

“It starts with the roles that our group has,” Coffman said. “The roles of these returners, who came off of the bench last year, they have done a phenomenal job of embracing the newcomers and showing them the ways of Fort Wayne basketball.”

“The ways of Fort Wayne basketball” have involved a couple of things, most notably winning games and redshirting players.

The Mastodons, who are ranked 57th in the latest NCAA Men’s Basketball Net Rankings, are second only to Horizon League foe Wright State in number of winning seasons over the past decade and are just one victory behind Northern Kentucky over that time frame in total wins.

“(These players) Have shown a hunger for winning,” Coffman continued, “and a hunger for our process, and a hunger to have good players come in and help each other have success.”

Two seasons ago, Purdue Fort Wayne won the Horizon League regular season and then returned the top six of those players last season. However, Coffman graduated all five starters from last year, as well as a reserve who played in 31 games and averaged nine minutes per game, but you wouldn’t realize that in watching his current group.

“Where we have been really special, is defensively,” Coffman said, “earlier than I thought we would be.”

Purdue Fort Wayne foes are scoring just 66 points per game (compared to 73 last season), and the Mastodons are limiting opponents to 29 percent shooting from long range, which is an improvement from a year ago.

Coffman said 25 percent of his team’s baskets this season have come via turnovers forced.

“You can’t win without defending,” Coffman said. “This group has come in and picked up our defense really quickly. We are able to play a smaller lineup because we are so aggressive.”

Offensively, the Redhawks have struggled mightily, which is going to make success on Saturday a challenge, because the foundation of Purdue Fort Wayne basketball is built on the pace of play, shooting the ball from 3-point range, and sharing the basketball.

All of those things have been prevalent this season.

The Mastodons are scoring nearly 87 points per game (20 points per game more than SEMO) while hitting nearly half (49 percent) of their shots overall and 39 percent from 3-point range.

“We’ve always recruited guys who can shoot it and drive it,” Coffman explained, “who are willing passers. They have bought into our flow. Most of them have chosen our place because of our offensive process and because they can score it and share the ball and shot the 3.”

Purdue Fort Wayne ranks 16th nationally in points per game, 26th in field goal percentage, and 30th in 3-point percentage.

Coffman believes this team will get even better as this season progresses.

The Mastodons, who have played the Redhawks four times in the past five seasons, have a couple of returning players, who will rejoin the team soon after being injured, which will bolster their team’s ability to pressure opponents defensively, as well as help offensively.

“We will be adding more depth to this group,” Coffman said. “We were doing that early in our (preseason scrimmages) and I loved it.”

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