The final season of Purdue Fort Wayne basketball in the Summit League begins today.
The Gates Center will play host to a doubleheader between the Mastodons and South Dakota, with the women playing at 12:30 p.m. and the men at 3 p.m.
The PFW men's team enters conference play with a 7-8 record following a difficult nonconference schedule that featured matchups against Power Five teams Ohio State and Iowa State. In addition to the quality of their opponents, the young Mastodons were tested by a grueling run of 14 games in 39 days after the start of the season.
“It's really nice playing against a lot of tougher opponents instead of playing a bunch of games that don't really mean much,” said sophomore guard Jared Godfrey, the team's leading scorer at 15.9 points per game. “We played really good teams to help us get better.”
That difficult slate helped the team, which is playing a lot of inexperienced players and adjusting to life without superstar John Konchar, begin to gel and prepare for a conference schedule that means even more to the program than usual.
“Our guys, they're hungry to start league play,” coach Jon Coffman said. “This is our last run in the Summit League and our guys, they have goals about that. They're excited about the Summit League this year and finishing strong because it's been a really good run for us.
“Obviously, they have an eye on the Summit League Tournament with this being the last tournament ever for us.”
The Mastodons have called the Summit League home since 2007-08 and shared the league title in 2015-16. They will depart for the Horizon League prior to the 2020-21 season.
This season, they open conference play with the Coyotes (9-6), whom Coffman called the “league favorite.” South Dakota started its conference slate with a loss to Western Illinois on Sunday and has dropped three straight but is a talented team led by 6-foot-10 senior Tyler Hagedorn, a second-team All-Summit League performer in 2017-18.
Hagedorn, who missed last season with an injury, is averaging 17.4 points and 7.2 rebounds and shooting 53.8% from beyond the 3-point line, a figure that would rank second in the country if he had enough attempts to qualify. He paces a Coyotes team that is hitting 39.5% from long distance, the 13th-best mark in Division I.
After a breakneck early schedule that saw the Mastodons play more games than any other team in Division I in the first five weeks of the season, PFW welcomed the holiday break. Coming back from Christmas, Coffman was impressed with the players' focus in practice. He believes his team is ready to make a statement.
“This (conference opener), we get a home game and that's great,” Coffman said. “We get an opportunity to hopefully send a message to the league that we've got a lot of newcomers, but at the same time, this group is ready to play and ready to compete in the league.”
The first half of today's twin bill will feature the Mastodons women taking on one of the best mid-major teams in the country. South Dakota's women are 12-2 and received the 26th-most votes in this week's AP Top 25.
The Coyotes are coming off a 28-5 season and NCAA Tournament appearance and boast victories over Utah, Missouri and Ohio State.
The Mastodons (4-9) have lost five of their last six and went 3-13 in Summit League play last season. They're led by 5-7 senior Hannah Albrecht, who is averaging 15 points and tops the team with 34 assists. Fifth-year senior Sh'Toya Sanders, a Wayne graduate, provides muscle on the glass with 8.8 rebounds per game. She is also averaging 7.5 points.
Guard Ciara Duffy, a two-time first-team All-Summit League honoree, paces the Coyotes with 16.4 points and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 48.3% from beyond the arc.
See a video
To see a video about the PFW-South Dakota men's game, click on this URL -- https://vimeo.com/382210294
PFW vs. South Dakota
At Gates Sports Center
When: 12:30 p.m.
Records: PFW (4-9), South Dakota (12-2)
When: 3 p.m.
Records: PFW (7-8), South Dakota (9-6)
TV (men only): Comcast 81
Radio: 1380 AM, 100. 9 FM