The Ball State men's basketball team runs onto the court after upsetting No. 9 Notre Dame 80-77 on Dec. 5 at Edmund P. Joyce Center. Junior guard Tayler Persons made the game-winning shot with 1.7 seconds left. Screenshot from video by Robby General, DN.
Last-second Persons 3-pointer seals Ball State's 80-77 upset win over No. 9 Notre Dame
Head coach James Whitford said that Ball State could compete with anyone. And well, he was right.
Ball State (5-4) knocked off No. 9 Notre Dame (7-2) with an 80-77 upset victory on the road by way of a game-winning 3-point shot from junior guard Tayler Persons.
“The last shot, [I] just made a play," Persons said. "Great defense, his hand was in there and I just made a shot and got the win."
Persons finished with a team-high 24 points on the night in his 33 minutes of play. He also had five rebounds and three assists in the victory. Junior Tahjai Teague finished with 13 and senior Sean Sellers finished with 11 to round out double digit scorers for the Cardinals.
The win marks the first ever for Ball State against Notre Dame, with the now 10-game series dating back to 1933. It also marked Ball State's first win against a Top 25 opponent since a 91-73 win over No. 4 UCLA on Nov. 20, 2001.
In the game, Ball State seemed to make more hustle plays, outrebounding Notre Dame 40-26 throughout the course of the game, 13-4 on offensive boards, and scoring 14 second-chance points throughout the game. Teague led the way with four offensive rebounds and eight total. And Sellers was right behind him with three and seven, respectively.
"I thought this guy right here," Whitford said, pointing to Sellers in the postgame press conference. "[Made] just gritty, hustle plays. Blue collar, get out of my way, I'm going to do anything I can to get the ball plays.
"They're so inspirational for your teammates."
Those were the type of plays that helped silence the 8,891 fans in attendance at Purcell Pavilion multiple times throughout the night.
In the first half, after a dunk from senior forward Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame cut Ball State's once eight-point lead down to one, 27-26. Coming down the floor, Persons let the ball dribble in front of him while pushing both of his palms to the floor, as if to tell his teammates to relax.
And it seemed to work, as Ball State remained in control, leading for 26:16 in the game and answering every time Notre Dame's crowd got on its feet.
"Every timeout, we just tried to settle each other down and got to the last score and just played to win," Persons said. "We stayed relaxed because, as a team, I think we've grown a lot. We know how to play in any moment."
Notre Dame began to climb back in the second half, shooting 59.3 percent from the field, but the first half deficit proved to be too much as Ball State went on to win its fourth-consecutive game.
As a team, Ball State shot 46 percent from the floor and 33 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Cardinals limited Notre Dame to 48.1 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from behind the arc.
"My worry is how they would shoot it from the arc and we did the job there," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "The second shots really hurt us and they made big shots. You've got to tip your hat off to Persons because he lined [the last shot] up.
"Give Ball State all the credit in the world, I thought they played a fabulous game."
Brey went on to discuss his confidence in Ball State winning the Mid-American Conference. In the postgame press conference, Whitford said "it says a lot" about where Ball State is at at this point in the season. He referred to the previous two contests against Power Five teams — Oklahoma and Oregon — two games that he said Ball State didn't play well in.
"I feel the experience in being in those games helped us tonight," Whitford said. "The reality is [the games] aren't different, they're against better teams, but they're not different."
Ball State (5-4) hosts another in-state and top 100 opponent in Valporaiso (8-0) at Worthen Arena on Saturday, Dec. 9.
Contact men's basketball reporter Robby General at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rgeneraljr.