The Purdue Fort Wayne men's basketball team might have it figured out.
After dropping two of their first three games in December, the Mastodons (12-7, 4-0 Summit League) have rattled off six straight victories to sit alone atop the standings.
PFW's 94-69 throttling Thursday night of Oral Roberts, the only other undefeated team in league play, at the Coliseum cemented their place as the team to beat.
“In the past we haven't really started like this, so thoughts like that can creep in, but we just got to keep reminding ourselves that we're not in Sioux Falls yet,” Kason Harrell said. “We may be in first place now, but we've got to keep playing the way we've been playing to keep it that way.”
Coach Jon Coffman chalks up the success over the last month, with the last loss coming in a 95-68 rout by Austin Peay on Dec. 15, to a lineup change.
When junior guard Dee Montgomery entered the starting lineup against IUPUI – first game of the winning streak – the pieces fell into place for the Mastodons.
“We're playing with an extra guard that we haven't played with in the past, so our rotations have been really good,” Coffman said.
They needed to be good against Oral Roberts big man Emmanuel Nzekwesi, who torched the Mastodons in the first half for 18 points and 11 rebounds but added only one basket in the second half.
“What great pace we had and it all was started by the great crowds we put on the defensive end,” Coffman said. “We had active hands, doubling in the post, and we were really good in our rotations.”
PFW swarmed the Golden Eagles, snagging 15 steals and forcing 18 turnovers, which it converted into 24 points.
A back-and-forth first 10 minutes of the game was quickly commanded by the Mastodons, who scored on six consecutive possessions during a 13-0 run to go up by 18 points with under two minutes to play in the first half.
John Konchar made a steal and a half-court collision resulted in a four-on-five PFW advantage. Harrell missed a layup, but Konchar came flying in for a vicious put-back slam to start the big run.
“It gave us a lot of momentum going into the second half,” Harrell said. “Our defense kind of picked up our offense because we were able to create turnovers and get out in transition, which is where we're at our best.”
The Mastodons hit 5 of 7 from behind the 3-point line to start the second half and finished 15 of 30.
PFW picked apart the zone of Oral Roberts (7-12, 3-1), a defense the Mastodons have seen little of this season.
PFW's inside-out game produced 22 assists on 34 baskets.
Five Mastodons scored in double figures with Harrell leading the way with 22 points and Konchar adding 21.
“It helps that you have two super seniors that are absolute pros with how they operate,” Coffman said. “Those two guys, their player development has just been awesome and what's happened is these newcomers have gotten to watch them and they're getting better.”
The Mastodons hit the road again when they play at South Dakota at 2 p.m. Sunday.