Darell Combs generated a 13-0 IUPUI run midway through the second half helping push IUPUI past Fort Wayne 83-82 in a pivotal Summit League matchup Thursday night. With the victory, the Jags avenged a 103-73 loss in Fort Wayne a month ago.
Trailing 52-46 at the 14:12 mark in the second half, the senior guard hit 3-pointers on three consecutive IUPUI possessions giving the Jaguars their first lead of the second half at 55-52. The Jags never trailed again.
“I was just in a box,” Combs said. “I felt like I was out there by myself. I didn’t’ hear nobody, I didn’t see nobody, I was just locked in.”
Combs, who will graduate in May, received high praise by his coach following the win.
“He is the ultimate competitor,” Jags coach Jason Gardner said. “I think he wants to win, even when he first came here that’s what he talked about.”
During the scoring spree, the Jag’s defense was just as impressive, holding the Mastodons scoreless for nearly four minutes.
Over the next three minutes of game-time IUPUI (13-16, 7-8) pushed their lead to 11, which tied their largest advantage of the game. Senior guard Kellon Thomas nailed a 3-pointer with 6:47 remaining to make it 71-60 in favor of the Jags.
A comfortable double-digit lead remained at the 3:21 mark after senior forward Matt O’Leary knocked down a pair of free throws, but Fort Wayne didn’t go down without a fight.
Kason Harrell and Jax Levitch hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Mastodons cutting the lead to 77-74 with under two minutes to play. Harrell was one of five Fort Wayne players who scored in double-figures, leading the way with 19 points on a perfect 6 of 6 shooting.
Senior Mo Evans hit another 3-pointer for the Mastodons, cutting the lead to two, but Thomas knocked down two crucial free throws after a Jag’s offensive rebound to once again make it a two possession game with 39 seconds to go.
When the going got tough, the tough got going for the Jag’s in Gardner’s eyes.
“I was real pleased with our senior leadership,” he said. “I think they kept the guys focused through the huddles and on the court they were talking a lot more.”
Fort Wayne (18-11, 7-8) cut the lead to three and had the ball in the final 30 seconds, but couldn’t find the bottom of the net, and IUPUI iced the game from the charity stripe.
In fact over the final 3:54 the Jag’s scored all nine of their points from the free throw line on 9 of 12 shooting. Thomas, who entered the game with a 91.7 percent mark from the line is on pace to become just the third player in program history to notch a single-season mark of 90 percent or better. Collectively IUPUI connected on 21 of 30 from the charity stripe, tying a season high for makes.
The first half was a back and forth tussle that featured 13 lead changes and three ties with the teams locked at 35 heading to the locker room.
Although the Jags had trouble getting out of the gates to begin the second half, it was noticeable that they were out hustling and out playing the Mastodons in every facet of the game.
“I thought we did a great job of flying around,” Jags coach Jason Gardner said. “I thought we got in the passing lanes a little bit, and I thought our scrambles were pretty good today.”
Turnovers proved to be a key difference maker as IUPUI forced 23 Fort Wayne miscues compared to just 10 of their own.
Junior Brent Calhoun added 18 to Harrell’s 19 for the Mastodons, while the other three starters, Evans, John Konchar and Bryson Scott all scored in double-figures as well.
Combs led the Jags with 20 points, while O’Leary added 14.
With the loss, Fort Wayne has dropped four of their last six and moves into a three-way tie for fifth place in league play with one game remaining in the regular season.
IUPUI has now won two in a row and holds a 17-4 all-time record against Fort Wayne at home. The Jags will look celebrate their four seniors Saturday evening when they host South Dakota.