The holidays are supposed to signify gifts and joyous times and the New Year is a fresh start. The IUPUI Jaguars indeed brought in the holidays with joy, almost as if they were singing the holiday classic, “Tis the Season to Be Jolly” the entire time.
The New Year may be the start of a “new year” if IUPUI (8-8, 2-2) continues rolling like they have winning a league’s best six straight games in the sweet December home stand.
“I’m very happy for the guys on two notes—I thought they ended the year of 2011 in a great fashion, on everything,” Head Coach Todd Howard said. “Academically it’s probably the best we’ve ever finished. On the court, we finished with five straight and then opened up this year (2012) with a win here at home.”
The Jags intense overtime win, 83-74, over Summit League’s UMKC that gave IUPUI their sixth straight win may be the game of the season that best explains how the Jags found a way to rise to the top. Senior Stephen Thomas finished second in scoring with 16 points and has had quite the turn-around since his ankle injury left him missing 19 consecutive practices from the first practice to the first game.
Tuesday night Thomas got started right away bombing a three one minute into the game on the Jags second possession. He followed with another bomb and continued to expose his threat as a shooter. Thomas finished with his third straight double digit scoring game.
Thomas’ leadership is and should be greatly appreciated as even his backup Jordan Shanklin missed five weeks from the last week of October and every day in November.
“They were just kind of passing in the night and we didn’t have fluidity offensively,” said Coach Howard. “We would in practice, but you’re not playing against the same competition.”
The lack of “fluidity” defines why the first portion of the season the Jags were just short, losing by two points, or missing a last second shot, but still played better than what the record showed. The transition has been made as the Jags have come full circle. The offense is sky high and reflects in ball movement and individual scoring from a different comfort level now.
In Tuesday’s game, four Jags finished in double figures—Thomas, Alex Young had 18, Lyonell Gaines with 15 and Ian Chiles finished with 13. Chiles has been monstrous offensively, almost coming out of nowhere. The transfer has had power plays and has come to surface one-on-one when needed in his first year. Gaines has found his place too. The lengthy freshman has killed the offensive boards and racked up points on the glass consistently.
And of course, AY has secured his comfort level to lead the team in scoring for the season. The left-handed senior just recently made a permanent mark in IUPUI record books inking third in scoring passing 1,944 points in his career. The senior says that he still had to find his way this season.
“Starting with me at the beginning of the season, I was the one forcing the issue,” said Young. “I was taking ill-advised shots.”
Young said the team had a players-only meeting that has proven successful. Teammates constructively criticized one another on things they could do better and Young said he has reaped the benefits.
“They guys told me what I could do better and I really listen to those guys,” said Young. “For me I just come out here hard and lead on both ends and do what I do. The other guys will follow.”
The guys have followed suit. All of the team seems to believe in the system that Howard has produced. The Jags are giving on both ends of the floor and are stepping up defensive intensity. The start of the last six winning games has been better too and is accounted for in their success. The Jags are being challenged on the road for the first time in over a month as they pack the bus up 65 to IPFW on Thursday.
“They understand what makes us good. If everybody has a piece of ‘what can I do to help us, what can I invest to get us an opportunity win’ and they’re doing that across the board—all 15 guys are—in practice, in preparation, in games, in timeouts, in huddles, and to win 6 in a row this month of December, we want it to continue,” said Howard.
AY says they just want to keep the streak alive and have the season they expected to have.