Men's basketball holds on to win first game back against Oakland City
Coming off a long travel stretch is hard for any team and the Ball State men's basketball team is no exception.
Ball State (3-4) held on to beat Oakland City (4-1), 81-57, for its third win of the season, but the game was a lot closer throughout the night than the final score indicated.
Going into halftime, the Cardinals seemed sluggish, leading 40-38 while committing nine early turnovers. The Fighting Oaks seemingly had an answer for every score after going down 15-2 to start the game.
"I thought Oakland City made it a tough game for us," head coach James Whitford said. "It was a hard game for us and I knew it would be because sometimes your first game after these really long trips are hard and we looked like a fatigued team tonight."
Early foul trouble and a shallow bench made it difficult for Oakland City to maintain its numbers on the floor, with five of its players finishing the game with three or more fouls and one — junior forward Logan Worthington — fouling out.
The Fighting Oaks struggled to fight off the Cardinals, who had five players finish in double digits, in the second half. The scoring effort was led by junior forward Tahjai Teague who was one rebound shy of a double-double, scoring a team-high in both points and rebounds with 16 and nine, respectfully.
Ball State started out slow despite its 52.2 shooting percentage from the floor and 25 percent from behind the 3-point line. Early turnovers and miscommunication on defense made the game as close as it was early on.
"Coach said to us that the first half was just a bad half for us, one of the worst we played all year," freshman guard Ishmael El-Amin said. "We took it upon ourselves to play the game we know how to play."
A 3-pointer from El-Amin at the 14:47 mark, which put Ball State up 51-46, seemed to be the turning point for Ball State. From there, it was hard to stop the Cardinals.
El-Amin went on to finish with 13 points on a team-high 29 minutes. Sophomore Kyle Mallers, 12, junior Tayler Persons, 11, and senior Sean Sellers, 11, all finished in double-digits as well. Sellers and junior Jontrell Walker started the game as senior Francis Kiapway was out with a non-serious knee injury.
After a slow first half, Ball State sharpened things up in the second, committing just four turnovers and limiting Oakland City to 19 points as a team. This season, the Division ll unit has averaged 93.2 points per game.
"I think we underestimated them," Teague said. "We weren't playing our normal defense and they were getting too many open looks and they were knocking them down."
After a first half where the Fighting Oaks shot 45.2 percent, they were limited to 26.5 percent from the field and 8.3 percent from 3-point range in the second half. Whitford says the biggest difference was the intensity.
"In the first half, we couldn't get a stop and there were stretches in the second half where it felt like they couldn't get a shot off," Whitford said. "In the second half, it wasn't the schemes, it's not like we made any adjustments, we just played harder."
The last time these two teams played, Ball State won 94-58 on Jan. 3, 2014.
Ball State is off tomorrow to rub off the remaining fatigue from the non-conference travel schedule before returning for two days of practice on Thursday and Friday.
While it may not have been the most impressive victory, it counts in the final standings.
"We kind of just needed to get our legs from under us and hopefully we move on from here and just get better," Mallers said.
Ball State returns at 2 p.m. on Dec. 2 to play IUPUI at Worthen Arena.
Contact men's basketball reporter Robby General at email@example.com or on Twitter @rgeneraljr.