Men's basketball head coach James Whitford preaches defense to his team day in and day out.

"To be a great team, you have to be great on the defensive end," Whitford said.

Whitford tells his players how being successful on the defensive end can turn into opportunities for the offense. Ball State has the top-ranked scoring defense in the Mid-American Conference and ranks No. 25 nationally, allowing an average of 63.6 points per game. Two-hundred fifty-eight of those 1,253 have come off of turnovers.

Cardinals Top Shooters

Ryan Weber: 66-136, 48 percent

Franko House: 74-134, 55 percent

Bo Calhoun: 73-167, 43 percent

Francis Kiapway: 44-96, 45 percent

Trey Moses: 32-68, 47 percent

Defense has been a crucial part to Ball State’s 12-6 record this season. The Cardinals have been particularly good at forcing turnovers, as redshirt junior guard Naiel Smith is second in the MAC with 28 steals this season. Smith also has 67 assists on the season, which have come from the fast break opportunities he allows off of steals.

Through the first 18 games, the Cardinals have had 90 fast break points.

Smith has been struggling as of late, with zero turnovers in the past two games, both of which Ball State trailed early.

While the Cardinals were able to come back against Miami on Jan. 16, they could not march back against Kent State, who handed Ball State its second home loss of the season. 

“For reasons I do not fully understand, we did not show up with the right intensity. We dug ourselves too big of a hole,” Whitford said.

Lack of turnovers and fouls canceled out the Cardinals' 40.7 percent from the field, as Kent State went on to hit 51 percent of its field goals which included 20 made free throws.

Whitford knows his defense is key to success, even with a strong offensive attack.

“I would rather us have a bad offensive game than a bad defensive game,” Whitford said.

He credits the defense to creating opportunities on the other end of the ball with offensive transitions down the court.

There are five Cardinal players shooting more than 40 percent from the field this season. Two of those shooters, redshirt junior guard Ryan Weber and junior guard Francis Kiapway, are both ranked in the top five for 3-point percentage in the MAC as well.

Sitting at 12-6 (3-2 MAC), Ball State is tied with Toledo for second in the MAC West Division. The Cardinals' next matchup will be against Eastern Michigan, who is 10-8 and 2-3 in the MAC.

Tip-off is set for Jan. 23 at 11:30 a.m. in Ypsilanti, Mich.