MEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State returns to winning ways
Cards return home after rough stretch against MAC East to get win
After going 1-5 in the divisional crossover, the Ball State basketball team dropped to 6-5 in the Mid-American Conference.
Its lead in the West Division was gone and for the first time all season Ball State was feeling the pressure.
Tuesday's game against Toledo was Ball State's first MAC West opponent in almost a month. It came at just the right time.
The Cardinals answered the adversity with a little pressure of their own.
Ball State used its full court defense to harass Toledo into 24 turnovers en route to an 83-62 win.
Late in the first half, the game was still close. Ball State was struggling to score and that's when coach Billy Taylor dialed up the press.
The lead was stretched to eight points by halftime, but the Cardinals didn't let up. They pressed the entire second half, running body after body at the Rockets.
"We couldn't handle their pressure," Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "Their ball pressure sped us up. Obviously it wore Malcolm [Griffin] out. Because of that he got in foul trouble. We're playing without a point guard anyways. Now we have to play two walk-ons at the point and they got smothered."
Taylor said the game plan was to put pressure on the basketball and force the action.
"[The press] allowed us to get steals, to force turnovers and get out and run for easy opportunities," Taylor said. "When you get 14 assists from your point guards, we're getting the ball in their hands in transition and letting them make the decisions. And then we've got guys who are going up and finishing."
Ball State used its athletes to wear Toledo out in what was an up-and-down game.
One of the players who continually finished the break for the Cardinals was Chris Bond. He had career highs in points (18) and rebounds (10) to lead the Cardinals.
In the past, turnovers killed Ball State once they got the lead late in games. Tuesday was different.
The continued pressure throughout the game kept Toledo out of contention. Ball State held a 15-point margin almost the entire second half.
"We played ten different guys, nine different guys played double figure minutes," Taylor said. "If you're going to pressure full court and still play with that energy, you gotta play more guys. It was nice to have to have that contribution off the bench so we could sustain the pressure. It wasn't pressure 5 to 7 minutes, but rather the entire 40 minutes."
Taylor said the team might use their pressure more the second time through the MAC West. It gives them a different look, coming up and pressuring the basketball.
Besides just from a defensive standpoint, the up-tempo look carried over to the Cardinals' offense. Players took quicker shots and seemed confident knocking them down.
"The tempo was set early from the full-court pressure, the transition play," Taylor said. "When we got open looks, guys were stepping up and taking them. They were going under ball screens on Randy [Davis] early and he stepped up and took those shots. Those are good shots any time we get those opportunities."
There is still an opportunity to win the MAC West for Ball State. Establishing early tempo could be key for the team in the last four conference games.