A Strong Finish
Friday afternoon the IUPUI Jaguars will look to enter the Christmas weekend with a four game winning streak. What a difference a few wins and consistent practices can make. Todd Howard and the Jags will face long time rival Valparaiso on Friday afternoon at the newly named Bankers Life Fieldhouse, formerly Conseco Fieldhouse. As a matter of fact the Jags closed down Conseco with a win Monday night over Ball State and look to become the first winner at the big bank. Before we get to the nice “W” over the Cardinals, let’s find out why the Jags are winning.
“Practice has been the big key and we are getting the chance to get better at practice and not at a shoot around the day of the game.”. Coach Howard put his team through a rugged stretch in November and he realizes the team is getting better with some time off. “When we first faced Ball State it was during a time where it felt like we were playing a game once every three days. It caught up to us physically and we lost some practice time.”. The first BSU game was in the middle of a stretch where the Jags played 6 games in 14 days. At the time coach Howard was trying to find the right rotations while his three experienced seniors learned to play with multiple newcomers.
“Right now we are better as a team and that was a tough stretch for some of our younger guys.” Freshman Lyonell Gaines agrees with his head coach. “In the first meeting with Ball State I was pushed around and that has never happened to me. I realized this is an entirely different level and I needed to get stronger.” Gaines was All-State as a senior in Kentucky and made the Kentucky All-Star team. He is one of the few freshman to arrive at IUPUI with a developed D1 look, but he still needed more work. “I actually went into the gym by myself at times to get stronger and better because I can’t afford to be pushed around. I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time and I need to get better with league play around the corner.”
Gaines and the Jaguars were not pushed around Monday night by the Cardinals. IUPUI felt like they were dealt some home cooking in Muncie back on November 23rd and were anxious for Monday’s rematch. Mitch Patton described the preparation as if it was a league game. “They beat us at their place and we get another shot at them. You don’t get many chances to play a non-conference team twice and we will be better prepared the second time around. It reminds me of league play and this will give the new guys a taste of that extra prep we will see in January and February.”
They were prepared and more than a few people told me it was the Jaguars best performance of the year. They worked together on defense and offensively the extra pass was always made. That has been the big key during this winning streak. IUPUI has not been forcing up shots and instead finding the hot hand or open shooter. In the first half against BSU the hot hand belonged to Ian Chiles. He scored 15 first half points, only two shy of his career high. His 6 for 9 shooting kept IUPUI in the game and his three just before halftime put the Jags up for good.
The second half belonged to Gaines and Alex Young. Gaines cleaned up the offense glass and Young showed the faithful from Muncie why he is the Summit League preseason player of the year. In the first meeting AY5 was 3-15 scoring only 9 points and left Ball State unimpressed. I remember leaving the gym and having a couple of people close to the BSU program ask me why he was the POY. At the time there wasn’t much to say because he was struggling, but I assured them he can play at a high level. As I left that night I was hoping he would show them just how great of a player he is. Well, he did that and more on Monday. BSU watched him go for 22 points with 17 in the 2nd half. He scored, rebounded (9), and blocked shots. A complete game that really pleased one particular NBA Eastern Conference scout who was there to see Mr.Young.
Now the Jags put their modest 3 game winning streak on the line against Valpo Friday afternoon. Is will be the 23rd all-time meeting and the first since 2007. The former Mid-Con (before it was the Summit League) rivals had some memorable battles during the regular season as well as the postseason. The Jaguars are 7-15 all-time against the Crusaders who left the Mid-Con to join the Horizon League. This series is a home and home with IUPUI traveling north on I-65 next season. Why is this game at the Fieldhouse? The schools would have played at the Jungle, but in the end decided on the Pacers home court. What a great venue for IUPUI to showcase the school and their skills. The Jags are now 6-4 at the Fieldhouse and have won three straight plus 4 of their last 5 on the NBA floor. The Jags first ever game at the Fieldhouse was a 64-61 loss to Valpo back on February 3, 2005.
I hope you can make it on Friday afternoon. If you can’t get away then you can hear me on the call beginning a 12:50. The name on the building is new, but it is still the same great Fieldhouse.
I want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. I’ll catch up with you next week as I plan on sitting down with coach Howard and getting his State of the Union, if you will, on the team and the league. Oh, and Christmas came early to the McCauley household…I did this blog post in it’s entirety on my new iPad. Technology is a blast.