Purdue Fort Wayne men's basketball coach Jon Coffman sent his hand skyward, after he was asked to describe the trajectory of Deonte Billups' season.
“Just continual growth. He's going like this,” Coffman said on the heels of the Mastodons' 75-69 victory over the Western Illinois Leathernecks in front of an announced crowd of 1,108 at Memorial Coliseum.
Billups, who made 4 of 7 shots and all seven of his free throws to finish with 16 points Wednesday night to emphasize how valuable the freshman guard from Moline, Illinois, has become.
“We're calling more play actions for him, not just because we're looking for him to score all the time, but he's really good at getting into the paint and now he can do multiple things,” Coffman said. “He's good at kicking (the ball out). He can score in the paint. Also, once he's in there, if he's dumping down, he's a great rebounder and he's filling the scoresheets for us.”
Billups wasn't as effective early in the season – he didn't score in double figures until the eighth game – but he's averaged 13.8 points over the last eight.
The 6-foot-4 Billups, who has started 10 straight games, is averaging 8.4 points for the Mastodons (11-14, 4-6 in Summit League) this season.
“I'm really pleased with our performance as a team,” Billups said. “There are always little things we can get better at, but overall we've been playing together as a team and that's what we need to do to be great in the postseason.”
The Mastodons have six more games before the Summit League Tournament, starting with a trip to Denver on Saturday, and Wednesday's victory exemplified their mettle. They saw a 17-point second-half lead dwindle to 3, but Billups and Jarred Godfrey were pivotal in holding on to the victory.
Billups drove through the lane for a basket and a foul, then set up Matt Holba for a 3-pointer on the next possession, as PFW took a 65-55 lead with 4:23 remaining.
Godfrey, who had a game-high 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, cemented the victory by driving through the lane to make it 71-66 with 27 seconds left. Godfrey is averaging a team-best 15.9 points.
“We had a rough patch toward the middle of the conference (season), but it's all starting to click, and we're starting to come together and take a leap in the right direction,” Godfrey said. “Unselfishness is one of our pillars of play. In previous years, PFW basketball has always thrived on being unselfish and making the extra passes. I feel like that's one of the biggest things we've improved on here, as of late.”
Western Illinois (5-16, 2-9), which has lost six in a row, was led by C.J. Duff's 13 points.
PFW's Marcus DeBerry had 14 points and Holba added 12.
“It's just playing together and doing what we do on offense and defense,” Billups said. “Sometimes, we come out and try to play one-on-one ball, but that doesn't help us and (Coffman) wants us to just play our style of basketball.”