MEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State breaks out of slump with 28-point home win over lowly Toledo
20-3 1st-half run helps halt CardinalsGÇÖ 3-game losing streak
Entering its game against the University of Toledo, the Ball State University men's basketball team simply wasn't clicking on offense during its three-game losing streak.
In the Cardinals' consecutive losses to the University of Dayton, Northern Illinois University and Central Michigan University, Ball State combined to score just 40.3 points per game and shoot 26.5 percent from the field.
But things were noticeably different for the Cardinals in Sunday's matchup against the Rockets.
Layups were made. Jumpers from short to long range were converted. The Worthen Arena fans were into the game.
In essence, the energy had returned.
Ball State shot 50 percent from the field – including 61.5 percent from 3-point range – and defeated Toledo 71-43 in front of 3,295 fans.
The 28-point margin of victory is the largest for Ball State under coach Billy Taylor, and the largest since defeating the University of Northern Colorado 81-42 to open the 2006-07 season.
"I'm just really proud of our guys for the way they bounced back after a couple tough games to start MAC play," Taylor said. "I thought our guys showed a lot of character and a lot of confidence in each other by the way that they battled here today – it was a tremendous effort."
Sunday's game came right in time for Ball State (7-8, 1-2 Mid-American Conference). Toledo (3-14, 0-3) entered the contest on a six-game losing streak and had won just one game in its past 28 games away from the Rockets' Savage Arena.
Toledo's slide continues, as the Rockets held the Rockets to a season-low 43 points and a .308 field goal percentage.
But Ball State's focus on Sunday was its offense. Taylor said his team had gotten away from an up-tempo pace of late, so the Cardinals responded by pushing the ball up the court throughout the game.
"We just made a conscious effort to say, ‘We're going to get out and run,'" Taylor said. "It was just an all-around effort from everybody to say, ‘We're going to run the floor, and we're a good defensive team and hopefully we'll get some easy points.'"
With Toledo's defensive focus on stopping Ball State's leading scorer, sophomore center Jarrod Jones, senior forward Terrence Watson thrived in the up-tempo offense and parlayed it into an all-around dominating effort.
Watson had a career-high 17 points and 11 rebounds and converted 5-of-5 free throws. He added two emphatic blocks, three assists and a steal.
"Watson, if you allow somebody a wide open look, he's going to make them," Toledo coach Gene Cross said. "We allowed open looks time after time after time."
Watson said the up-tempo style loosened up his team and made them forget about their previous offensive woes.
"We just wanted to get up and down a little more," Watson said. "That's what we did, and we had a little fun today. I think all the guys had fun, and it was just a big part of the game – getting up and down."
Ball State entered the game ranked last in the nation in 3-pointers made per game, but in the early going Sunday, the Cardinals put that stat out of mind.
Watson opened the game with a layup, then freshman guard Jauwan Scaife and senior guard Brawley Chisholm nailed consecutive 3s to extend Ball State's lead to 8-2 just 4:03 into the first half.
Toledo cut the lead to 8-5, but the Cardinals took over the game from that point. Ball State went on a 20-3 run – including 11 straight points – over the next 8:17 to take a 28-8 lead.
The Cardinals led 40-22 going into halftime as Watson set the tone with 13 first-half points to go with seven rebounds. Ball State also held Toledo to 25 percent (7-of-28) shooting in the first half.
"[Ball State] came out, made shots, defended us very well," Cross said. "We didn't make shots, and it was due to them playing good defense."
Toledo cut Ball State's lead to 15 three times in the first 5:25 of the second half until Scaife took the game over for the Cardinals.
Scaife entered the game converting just one of his last 16 3-point attempts, but shrugged off his struggles with 15 second-half points against Toledo on 5-of-5 made 3-pointers.
For the game, Scaife scored a career-high 20 points while hitting 6-of-8 3s. The six 3s are the most for a Ball State player since Skip Mills hit six against the University at Buffalo March 6, 2006.
"[Scaife's] too good a shooter to not make shots," Cross said. "Our plan wasn't to come off of him at all; it wasn't to let him shoot it because we know he's a really good player and we know as a 3-point shooter he's a tremendous threat from 3."
Toledo limited Jones to six points on 3-of-8 shooting, but he was a factor on the boards for Ball State, grabbing nine rebounds as the Cardinals out-rebounded the Rockets 39-31.
For the Rockets, who have no seniors on their roster, freshmen guards Jake Barnett and Malcolm Griffin each had a team-high 12 points.
Barnett, Toledo's leading scorer at 14.7 points per game, converted just 3-of-11 shots from the field as sophomore guard Pierre Sneed was constantly on Barnett's trail throughout the game.
"I think that it all started in practice," Sneed said. "My teammate, John Green, got me so prepared for [Barnett] because he was throwing up shots and they were going in, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, are you serious? I hope Barnett's not going to be like this.'"
Ball State hopes to continue its offensive improvement with a 7 p.m. home tipoff Wednesday against Western Michigan University (10-6, 2-1 MAC), who on Saturday defeated MAC West Division favorite Central Michigan 70-61.