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Combs keys second-half run to give IUPUI 83-82 win over Fort Wayne

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The last time these teams played, Fort Wayne handed IUPUI their worst loss of the season. This time the Jaguars were at home but still had to contend with a hostile crowd because of the large number that made the two-hour trip down to Indianapolis to support Fort Wayne. After nearly giving up a late double-figure lead and thanks to some home-court officiating, they pulled this one out by the skin of their teeth, 83-82.

Darell Combs didn’t have his best game of the season and possibly not even the best game among his teammates, but Combs was the reason IUPUI won this game. He single-handedly went on an 11-o run spanning 114 seconds in the second and turned a 52-46 deficit into a 57-52 lead. He finished with 20 points on 6-for-13 shooting. Matt O’Leary finished with 14 points on a poor shooting night but added five rebounds and five steals. As a team, the Jaguars stole the ball a season-high 14 times and forced a season-high 23 turnovers.

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Mo Evans, Fort Wayne’s leading scorer, finished with just 11 points while turning the ball over six times. He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t take care of the ball though. Bryson Scott turned the ball over six times as well and Brent Calhoun had five turnovers. The best performance of the night for either team goes to Kason Harrell for Fort Wayne who hit all six of his shots, including five three-point attempts, and both free throws for 19 points.

The first half saw IUPUI even the score after an initial 5-0 deficit and a 30-23 deficit later in the half. When Fort Wayne opened up a 52-46 lead midway through the second half, a feeling of inevitability that Fort Wayne would win seemed to settle in. Combs wanted none of it though.

After O’Leary missed a 3-pointer, Combs grabbed the long rebound and stepped into a 3-pointer from the top of the key to halve Fort Wayne’s lead. Scott missed a 3-pointer on the other end, Evan Hall grabbed the rebound, and then he found Combs running the other way. The defender made contact with Combs on the right wing and fell backwards in hopes of drawing a charge, but failed. Combs promptly stepped up and drained his second-straight 3-pointer. John Konchar missed for Fort Wayne and IUPUI followed the same formula. Hall got the rebound, passed to Combs and Combs hit yet another 3-pointer giving IUPUI a 55-52 lead. D.J. McCall stole the ball on the next possession and relinquished the ball to the hot hand. Fort Wayne decided to play Combs much more aggressively, but that only led to him getting fouled on a 3-point shot from the left wing leaving the fans and bench delirious. He hit two of three to cap off his 11-0 run.

T.J. Henderson extended the lead on IUPUI’s next possession to 59-52 with a pair of free throws and then Combs finally cooled off. He missed his next 3-pointer and followed it up with a turnover.

IUPUI maintained control though keeping the lead around 10 points. It wasn’t until after O’Leary hit a pair of free throws with 3:21 to go that Fort Wayne made their run. Harell hit a quick 3-pointer and after a missed IUPUI jumper Jax Levitch hit another to cut IUPUI’s lead to 76-71. The score hovered as each team was sent to the line multiple times over the next two minutes. With less than a minute to go and IUPUI up two points, Combs drove down the left side of the paint and missed a layup while trying to draw the foul. Hall got the offensive rebound though and passed it back out to Kellon Thomas. Even though it was still a one-possession game with 39 seconds left, the referees though Fort Wayne was trying to foul and sent Thomas to the line, much to the chagrin of Fort Wayne head coach Jon Coffman. Thomas hit both to make it a two-score game. Fort Wayne managed to make it a one-point game off a Harrell 3-pointer, but with only 0.1 seconds left, it was moot.

Despite giving up 20 fewer points to Fort Wayne than the last time they played, IUPUI still allowed Fort Wayne to shoot 58 percent for the game, the highest IUPUI has allowed in a game this season, and 46 percent from three. It took season-highs in free throws made (21) and attempted (30), steals (14), turnovers forced (23) and turnover differential (plus-13) to eek out the one-point win.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the win wasn’t getting to the free-throw line or the active hands on defense, but how the team responded after all of their momentum in the second half was seemingly lost. With 8:13 left in the game, O’Leary stole the ball, dribbled coast to coast only to miss a layup, but got his own rebound, was fouled and made the put-back. In his excitement he threw a fist pump in the air as he turned and inadvertently hit Scott in the face leading to some push, shoving and shouting between most players on the court. After an official timeout and lengthy review, a pair of double-technical fouls was given. It didn’t yield any ejections of IUPUI players, any free throws for Fort Wayne, and O’Leary still got to shoot his free throw from the foul. But the lengthy delay killed any IUPUI momentum.

Nobody would have blamed IUPUI had the game turned at that point against a team that beat them by 30 points earlier this season, but they held steady and maintained their 11-point lead until Fort Wayne’s final run.

The focus that IUPUI had to not lose control of the game during Fort Wayne’s early runs and maintain control late is what they’ll need if they want to make a run in the Summit League Tournament. They only have one game left in the regular season to build some more momentum. They’ll take on South Dakota at home on Saturday at 7 p.m. Despite a close contest most of the game, the Coyotes won the last meeting 85-74.

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