The mantra in the Purdue Fort Wayne men's basketball locker room this week had been: “It's time to put it all together – together.”
But the Mastodons aren't there yet.
Omaha's Ayo Akinwole drove through the lane and hoisted a shot that barely trickled in with 3.2 seconds left at the Gates Center to cement a 61-59 victory over the Mastodons on Thursday night.
“It's not one person, it's as a group, we've got to raise our level,” PFW coach Jon Coffman said, mentioning his team is working on improving its body language, doing things such as clapping and patting each other to raise the energy level, and having a mindset that winning ugly is OK.
The Mastodons played a scrappy game, rallying from an early seven-point deficit, and battling through 38.9% shooting, but they couldn't quite come up with the needed plays in the biggest moments.
They almost won it, though, as Deonte Billups' 3-point attempt at the buzzer narrowly missed, leaving PFW (12-17, 5-9 Summit League) with a third consecutive loss.
“I think we fought all game. We had a big emphasis in this game on rebounding and then transition defense,” said PFW's Matt Holba, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We struggled a little bit in the first half with our transition defense, but I thought we picked it up in the second half and competed, fought till the end.
“We executed at the end, too. We got a really good look at it (from Billups) to win it at the end there, and I think we're going to make that one next time.”
Only two games remain for the Mastodons – Wednesday at the Gates Center against Denver and Feb. 29 at Oral Roberts – before the Summit League Tournament.
“I'm disappointed that we keep running into the same obstacle where adversity strikes and then our process isn't very good,” Coffman said. “It's not one or two people; it's the group. It's time to put it all together.”
Jarred Godfrey led PFW with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Brian Patrick had nine points, including a thunderous dunk for a 30-24 lead – PFW's largest – with 5:16 remaining in the first half. That basket completed a 19-6 Mastodons run.
A back-and-forth game ensued and the Mavericks (14-14, 7-6), who shot 38.8% from the field, went up 52-46 with 8:49 left in the second half when an Akinwole steal set up Zach Thornhill for a 3-pointer from the corner.
PFW tied it at 59 after Marcus DeBerry shut down the Mavericks with a shot block, then stole the ball and went in for a wide-open layup with 24 seconds left.
“It's just (about) the ability to string stops together,” DeBerry said. “A big emphasis for us in practice was transition defense, but I think in the half court we've just got to get better at getting more stops.”
Omaha, which was led by K.J. Robinson's and J.T. Gibson's 12 points apiece, has won the last six meetings with PFW, including a 75-71 game Jan. 25 and a 61-60 victory in the Summit League Tournament last year. The last 13 meetings have been decided by nine or fewer points.