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Kevin Schnepf, Published January 21 2011

Schnepf: IPFW left with chills after stunning comeback against NDSU

Life on the road can be cruel.

Just ask Dane Fife, whose Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne men’s basketball team is discovering this week what it must have been like for Robert Peary’s 1909 expedition to the North Pole.

“It’s cold,” Fife said of the 30-below wind chills that smacked his team in the face Thursday night.

Fortunately for Fife’s Mastodons, they play basketball indoors. His team, overcoming an 18-point deficit, smacked North Dakota State in the face with an 84-80 win.

“We think it gets cold in Fort Wayne, but I don’t know how you guys do it up here,” said IPFW senior guard Ben Botts.

You would think with a nickname like the Mastodons (one of the largest land animals that lived during the ice age), Botts and his teammates would be accustomed to this week’s Arctic blast. Not so. While bussing to Brookings today and to Omaha on Sunday to catch a flight back home, IPFW players will probably be scanning the prairie for penguins and polar bears.

“It’s always so cold here … we like to leave as soon as we can,” Botts said.

Especially with a road win that is hard to come by in the Summit League.

Before pulling off a win in the frigid Bison Sports Arena last year, IPFW suffered 27 and 31 point losses here. Botts remembers those blowouts all too well. But now, his team is 3-0 on the road.

“I remember having a couple long nights here and it was almost another one of those again tonight,” said Botts, whose team trailed 43-25 late in the first half.

With road wins at Oral Roberts and Centenary, has Fife unearthed the secret to winning on the road?

“A crucial part of it is having veterans,” Fife said, referring in part to Botts who led all scorers with 21 points, four of those coming in the final 38 seconds.

The Bison themselves are trying to figure out how to win on the road, reminiscent of their first year in the league in 2008 when they went 3-6. They have won only one of five road games this season.

That’s why a win was desperately needed for a Bison team that has now lost three straight and six of its last eight.

“In order to win the league, you need to win the road games at Western Illinois, UMKC, Southern Utah, Centenary … the ones you should win,” Phillips said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t done that this year. Now our focus is a little different.”

The focus was to take advantage of this four-game homestand before playing four of its last seven games on the road. The immediate focus is on Saturday’s home game against Oakland – the team from suburban Detroit that is threatening to run away with the regular-season title.

You can bet the 30-below wind chills aren’t going to cool off Oakland. Greg Kampe’s teams know how to win on the road. After Thursday night’s 97-88 win at South Dakota State, the Grizzlies are 5-0 on the road this season. They were 8-1 on the road en route to last year’s NCAA tournament appearance – similar to NDSU’s road record when it won it all two years ago.

Life on the Summit League road must seem a heck of a lot easier for Oakland than its brutal nonconference schedule. Six of its eight losses have come against nationally ranked teams. One of its wins was an impressive 89-82 win at Tennessee.

“They would finish in the top three in the Big Ten (Conference),” said Fife, whose team suffered an 86-68 home loss to Oakland five days ago. “I don’t think we will see a team as gifted as Oakland in this league for another 30 years. They’ve got everything you need to win. It’s an abundance of resources.”

Resources that took on heavyweights like West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State this season.

There’s no truth to the rumor that Kampe tried to schedule the L.A. Lakers. Had he pulled that off, at least his players would’ve been a lot warmer than they will be this weekend.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com