The basketball skill set of IPFW men’s player Joe Reed is much like the sophomore forward’s collection of facial scruff: Every day there is growth.
Maybe it has added distance to an already smooth perimeter shooting touch, or a new interior move to try out against an upcoming Summit League opponent.
Slight alterations to Reed’s boxing-out technique. Improved dependability as a free-throw shooter. Time in the school’s weight room to apply additional bulk to an already strong 6-foot-8, 220-pound frame.
Reed, a former Center Grove standout, averages 8.6 points and 5.5 rebounds for the Mastodons, who on Saturday improved to 18-6 overall and 6-1 in Summit League play with a 77-64 victory against visiting Western Illinois.
IPFW’s eighth win in its past nine games proved the perfect microcosm of Reed’s season to date — 19 minutes, 10 points, five rebounds and two assists as a backup to either 6-7 forward Michael Kibiloski or 6-9, 295-pound post Steve Forbes.
“I’ve been coming off the bench all year. I think it’s actually helped me to see the flow of the game and how the refs are calling the game,” Reed said. “We’re a tough team to scout with five guys in double-figures most games.
“We have a pretty nice balance this season.”
Indeed. The scoring averages of the eight players primarily incorporated by third-year IPFW coach Tony Jasick range from 7.4 points a game (backup guard Isaiah McCray) to 15.2 (6-5 senior swingman Luis Jacobo).
The Mastodons are nearly assured to produce the best won-loss record in what is their 15th season as a Division I program (the 2010-11 ’Dons
were 18-12 under former head coach Dane Fife in his sixth and final season).
Reed’s willingness to accept his role after starting 11 games as a freshman is one of the primary reasons.
“To be honest, I couldn’t tell you who starts and who the subs are,” Jasick said. “We play seven or eight guys, and they all play about the same amount of time. It’s great to have a no-ego guy like Joe on the team. You’re dealing with a quality young man, and you have to credit his parents for that.
“And Cliff (Hawkins) does such a great job with his program there at Center Grove.”
Despite coming off the bench, Reed at 25 minutes per game is fourth among IPFW players in that category. He’s fifth in points, rebounds, assists (1.2) and steals (15).
Crashing the offensive glass is the forward’s specialty. His team-leading 65 boards at that end of the floor are well ahead of Forbes’ 47. He also has improved his free-throw shooting (47 of 73, .644) and is 4 of 15 behind the 3-point stripe.
The Summit League, which doesn’t lack in cold-weather road trips, is about to present IPFW one of its most bone-chilling. The Mastodons play Thursday night at South Dakota State before enduring the four-hour drive north to Fargo for a Saturday afternoon game at North Dakota State.
Both promise to be major tests. South Dakota State is 4-3 in the Summit League standings, while its neighbor to the north is 5-2.
With venerable 6,113-seat Sioux Falls Arena scheduled to host the conference tournament March 8-11, this week serves as a golden opportunity for the Mastodons to reacquaint themselves with partisan Jackrabbits and Bison crowds.
This is the game within the game, with IPFW needing to claim the Summit League Tournament in order to qualify for its first NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
“That’s obviously everyone’s goal,” Reed said. “That is a tough place to play. They have a good atmosphere, and being so far away we don’t have a lot of our fans there. Last year we had our band, our cheerleaders and probably 20-30 others. It was us against 5,000 to 6,000 fans. We couldn’t hear.”
The 2012-13 ‘Dons made it to the semifinals and led No. 1 seed South Dakota State by a basket at halftime. However, the Jackrabbits lived up to their nickname the final 20 minutes to post a 72-56 victory.
That was then. IPFW this time around is older, wiser, deeper and just plain better.
The Big Dance awaits, but there is work to be done.