Purdue Fort Wayne's coach, Jon Coffman, was recently chatting with senior forward Matt Holba about how they could get things cooking this season. They came up with two words: Pride and discipline.
Those facets remain a work in progress, as evidenced by the 84-80 loss to Miami (Ohio) in front of 1,355 fans at Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday.
“We'll be working through that all the way through the end of the year and into the next year. That's what makes a lot of teams great,” Coffman said, adding the little details are holding PFW back.
The Mastodons (1-3) have beaten only Division III Manchester and are off to their worst four-game start since going 1-3 in 2009-10. It's no time to panic, said Coffman, whose team plays host to Stetson at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Coliseum.
“We haven't been as disciplined as we need to be, but some of it is because we just haven't built enough habits,” he said. “They say it takes 21 days to change a habit and we're not 21 days into the season. ... I'd been watching us play ourselves, but until you see them play somebody else and get video, really coach that up, you don't really know.
“It could take a little bit of time, but it could turn tomorrow in terms of wins and losses. This group has a potential to be really, really good. It's just we've got to keep working every single day and not let some adversity pull us back and be 'woe is me.' ”
The Mastodons lost much to graduation, including John Konchar, who made his NBA debut Saturday with the Memphis Grizzlies. They didn't return anyone who had been All-Summit League, and that hadn't happened since 2015-16 – when the Mastodons started 2-2 and won the Summit League's regular-season crown.
There remains a strong belief among the Mastodons, who were led by Brian Patrick's 23 points and six rebounds, that things will improve in short order.
“We've got to make winning plays, those little winning plays, of getting a defensive rebound or boxing out or blocking out on the free throws,” said Patrick, after his team outshot the RedHawks 50% to 48.4% but was felled by the disparity in turnovers (19-12). “We've just got to get better as a team, to be honest.”
Holba had 18 points and five rebounds. Jarred Godfrey added 17 points.
“At the end of the game, we struggled to get stops. We need to work on our defense a little bit, get in the passing lanes,” Holba said. “We needed to pressure them a little bit more, like we did at the beginning of the game, and just focus on our defensive details. I thought we were scoring the ball, but needed to get the stops in order to gain back the ground.”
A Mekhi Lairy jumper put the RedHawks up 57-50 with 13:18 left in the second half. The Mastodons struggled to cut into the RedHawks' lead until a Patrick 3-pointer trimmed it to 80-76 with 21 seconds left, when it was too late.
“We've just got to put a toughness out there – a toughness to win and a toughness to fight every single play and battle,” Holba said.
Miami (1-1) was paced by Nike Sibande's 19 points and Dalonte Brown's 17.
Added Patrick: “(Toughness) is something we're getting the hang of. We're continuing to work on it. We've just got to get better, honestly, just every day we've got to get better.”