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Local colleges

vs. Omaha
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Gates Center
Radio: 1380 AM

Transfer makes transition to ‘rock’ of Mastodons

– He does his best work, perhaps, when no one is looking. Or almost no one.

And so come back to the evening of Jan. 14, a half-hour or so after everything was finished, the Gates Center cleared out and South Dakota State duly dispatched, 82-75. Here, at that moment, came IPFW point guard Pierre Bland, stepping back into the arena.

Bland had played a serviceable 29 minutes – seven points, four assists, five rebounds – but he’d been a subpar 3 of 7 from the free throw line. And so for the next 15 or so minutes, he shot free throws.

Says a little, or maybe a lot, about why he’s become the guy head coach Tony Jasick calls “the rock,” a 6-foot-2 senior from Jacksonville, Fla., for whom point guard was an acquired rather than an organic skill.

“Coming out of high school, in my juco (junior college) days, I transitioned to point guard,” says Bland, who will lead the Mastodons (16-6, 4-1 Summit) against Nebraska-Omaha (12-7, 2-3) tonight at the Gates Center. “That was kind of the role my coach in juco wanted to make me play specifically for when I got recruited by the schools after the juco season.”

It wasn’t a perfect transition at first. Bland came out of Jacksonville Lee High School as a scorer, although his skill set included the point guard’s dribbling and passing. The trouble was, he thought dribbling and passing were all a point guard did.

“That might have been the toughest part of the transition, because at the beginning when I felt like I was the point guard, I wasn’t being as aggressive,” says Bland, who was named co-Summit League Player of the Week for his 16-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist, three-steal game in a win over IUPUI. “But once I developed and I learned more about the position, I combined everything, like the passing and getting my teammates involved and being aggressive, all that.”

The results you can find on the stat sheet – Bland averages 10.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists and leads the Mastodons with 42 steals, while averaging less than two turnovers in a team-high 31.3 minutes per game – and on the floor, where he attacks the rim to collapse defenses and create open looks.

And then there’s the defensive end.

“His presence on the ball ignites our defense,” Jasick says. “Because everybody sees it. If you’re guarding the ball on the floor and your four teammates are behind you, watching, you kind of start the momentum of that defensive possession one way or another. So he’s been a great source of leadership.”

That leadership will come in handy this evening against an Omaha team that averages 80.9 points per game.

“They play really, really fast,” Jasick says. “So these last few days have really been focused on what we need to do to limit their easy baskets and make it challenging for them to score the ball”