Ball State defeats Florida A&M 75-54, enters conference play on 8-game winning streak
Ball State men’s basketball forced 16 turnovers and used a 53 percent second half shooting performance to fly past Florida A&M for its eighth consecutive victory.
“I was pleased with the win, one of the things that we always try to preach is that you don’t let your defense get dictated by your offense,” head coach James Whitford said. “For much of the first half I didn’t ever feel like we let the frustration on offense dictate the way we played on defense and that was the thing I felt best about. When the shots started falling in the second half our defensive effort was consistent all the way through."
The offensive frustrations mentioned by Whitford were caused by the team’s 29 percent shooting performance from the field in a close first half. Ball State (9-4) got into the bonus with over 10 minutes left in the first half on the way to eight made free throws in the first 20 minutes to keep Florida A&M (1-15) from leading by more than six points.
Toward the end of the first half, bench production helped Ball State take control of the game.
With just under six minutes remaining in the first half, senior guard Jeremie Tyler connected on three straight 3-pointers off the bench and sophomore forward Tahjai Teague knocked down a couple of free throws to give a then struggling Ball State team its first lead of the game, which they would not relinquish.
“When the bench comes in we try to provide a spark, so I was just lucky enough to be open and my teammates did a good job of looking for me and I just knocked down the shots,” Tyler said. “That’s just pretty much what coach’s emphasis is on the bench is when the next group comes in we need that spark of energy on the defense and offensive end so that’s just what I did.”
Teague finished the game with a team-high 16 points off the bench to go along with six rebounds in his team-leading 29 minutes.
“[Teague] sparked a lot of those transition plays for us,” Whitford said. “He’s awkward when he brings the ball up the court, sometimes you’re kind of holding your breath, but his effectiveness is unquestionable.”
Teague knows how valuable the bench production will be once conference play begins.
“It’s going to get us far in the conference,” Teague said. “Any of us on the team could start and it doesn’t matter to me who starts so I think it’s great that we have the depth of that. When you sub somebody in it’s not like there’s a drop off so I like that.”
The defensive energy led to some easier baskets in transition for the Cardinals as they finished the game with 13 fast break points and 20 points off turnovers. Whitford said that the transition points were critical in allowing the team to negate the shot-blocking ability of Florida A&M’s 7-foot center, Isaiah Martin, who finished the game with four rejections in 25 minutes.
Despite Florida A&M having a 7-footer to protect the paint in Martin, Ball State won the battle of the boards 39-30 and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds on the way to 15 second chance points. Tough defense from the Cardinals limited the Rattlers to 16 points in the paint on 40 percent shooting from the field.
Seniors Desmond Williams and Marcus Barham were the only Rattlers to score in double figures with 20 and 18 points apiece. Junior guard Tayler Persons and junior center Trey Moses joined Teague as the Cardinals double-digit scorers with 10 points each. Moses added 10 rebounds to give himself another double-double in 23 minutes of action, despite getting into early foul trouble.
The Cardinals are now 7-0 at Worthen Arena this season and have won eight consecutive games for the first time since winning 10 in a row during the 1999-2000 season.
“We all play for each other and we have fun on the court and off the court and that chemistry is something you can’t just put into a team, you have to kind of find,” Persons said.
Ball State will open conference play when it hosts Eastern Michigan on Jan. 2.
“It’s an exciting time, I don’t care what conference you’re in, conference basketball is always a little bit special,” Whitford said. “I always feel that way, especially in our conference because it’s such a dog fight and I think everyone is really salivating at the mouth a little bit to get started here with what’s going to be really competitive every single time you play, and it should be a lot of fun.”
The opening tip of the first conference game will be at 7 p.m.
Contact Nate Fields with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NateNada.