Men's basketball opens season in highly-attended Dayton Arena
Most players on the Ball State men's basketball team have never played in an atmosphere like the University of Dayton Arena.
Dayton is among the highest attended teams in the NCAA. According to the 2017 NCAA men's basketball attendance list, which calculates all attendance numbers from last season, Dayton average 13,018 fans per game – good for the 22nd spot on the list.
In its exhibition game against Ohio Dominican earlier this week, Dayton sold out UD Arena which fits 13,450 people.
- Ball State is 0-2 against Dayton all-time.
- Dayton is playing under first year coach Anthony Grant, who replaced Archie Miller.
- Last season, Dayton (24-8, 15-3 A-10) won the Atlantic 10 regular season title.
- The Flyers have made the NCAA tournament each of the previous four years.
"The biggest challenge in any game you play, I don't care what it is, is to maintain the focus on the moment and just be locked in on where you are," head coach James Whitford said. "In an environment like that, it makes it hard to kind of dial back and block out the noise because there's a lot more that you have to block out."
This week in practice, Whitford said he has had to dial in his players because he saw them thinking too much about Friday's game.
In the past three seasons, Ball State hasn't had to worry about noise all too much. The only time Ball State has played in crowds greater than 10,000 people was against Alabama (11,665) last season and San Diego State (12,414) in 2014.
The only active Ball State player that has played in front of larger crowds is redshirt junior Tayler Persons, who traveled to Big Ten opponents Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern while at Northern Kentucky his freshman year.
While Persons isn't worried about his team adapting to the atmosphere, he is offering them some advice.
"We're not going to be able to here much in there," Persons said. "It's just going to be us out there, coaching each other. You know, you're going to get waves of emotion when a big play happens or a bad play happens to us, we've just got to stay steady and go with our game plan."
During practice, Whitford was encouraging his players to be loud, particularly on the defensive end where Ball State's big men will be tasked with stopping a Dayton team that scored 52 of its 79 points in the paint in its exhibition win.
That effort was led by 6-foot-7 redshirt junior forward Josh Cunningham who finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, and 6-foot-9 junior forward Xeyrius Williams who brought in a team-high 15 rebounds on the night.
"Our ability to rebound will be very important for us," Whitford said. "Josh Cunningham is a really good player with his ability to score in the low post. There's no question that's going to be critical, but we've got plenty of guys who can score too, so we'll have to be able to match."
While Dayton brings experience in the paint, Ball State has a lot of guards that can get the job done on the offensive end. Seven players made a three pointer and seven scored at least eight points in its exhibition win over Saint Francis Monday.
It's still uncertain whether or not last year's All-MAC defensive player Trey Moses will play Friday, and even if he does, Whitford says his minutes will be limited early in the season.
"We're more of a 3-point shooting team because of the guys we have," senior guard Francis Kiapway said. "With Trey coming back, the ball is definitely going to go inside more, but I think we're going to shoot the same amount of three's."
Two conflicting offensive styles meet up at 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Dayton Arena to officially open up the 2017-18 season.
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