Sophomore forward Kyle Mallers gets fouled by Stony Brook’s Junior Saintel as he brings the ball down the court during Ball State’s game against the Seawolves on Nov. 17 in John E. Worthen Arena. Mallers got 26 minutes of playing time. Paige Grider, DN
Ball State draws from early season experiences in its 9th straight victory
Ball State knows all too well what it's like to lose a tight game and it wasn't going to let its conference opener slip away like earlier games this season.
After trailing by five points at halftime, Ball State (10-4, 1-0 MAC) outscored Eastern Michigan (9-5, 0-1 MAC) by 15 points in the second to earn its first conference victory of the season. The 72-62 win marks the ninth straight for Ball State and brings the team's win total to 10 on the season.
"We're an experienced team ... I feel like every game that you play in, you get experience from," junior guard Tayler Persons said. "I feel like we're more relaxed and when games are closer at the end, I feel like we kind of focus more and I couldn't say that for teams like last year's [team]."
The Cardinals opened up conference play against the Eagles slowly, to say the least.
Ball State shot just 1-7 behind the 3-point line in the first five minutes compared to Eastern Michigan's 3-4. While the 3-pointers didn't fall the entire night for the Cardinals (5-23), head coach James Whitford said the shot selection got better after they were down 36-31 heading into halftime.
"I thought, in the second half, [it was] arguably the best half we played all year," Whitford said. "We didn't shoot the ball well, but every other phase of the game in the second half was terrific."
In the second half, Ball State shot 51.7 percent (15-29) from the field and had more rebounds (24-17), assists (11-2) and points (41-26) than Eastern Michigan. On the night, the Cardinals had 20 assists compared to the Eagles eight, something that Persons said was key to the teams turnaround performance in the second 20 minutes.
"That's one of the most positive things about our team is that we're unselfish and when you play like that, it's a fun team to be on," Persons said.
Three different Ball State players finished in double digits in terms of scoring. Sophomore Kyle Mallers led the way with 17, junior center Trey Moses had 13 and sophomore forward Tahjai Teague had 12. Moses also finished with 10 of Ball State's 42 rebounds for the game's only double-double.
Eastern Michigan was the fourth straight opponent that played zone defense and came into the game averaging a conference best 10.1 steals per game. The Eagles finished the night with eight steals and forced 13 Cardinal turnovers.
Still, Ball State limited Eastern Michigan to 26 points and 30 percent from the field while scoring 41 points on 51.7 percent from the field in the second half en route to its first victory of the new year.
"If you're going to win a lot of games, you're going to have to grind out your fair share," Whitford said. "I thought we really did that in the second half and I couldn't be more impressed with how well we played in the second 20 minutes."
In the postgame press conference, Mallers discussed how the team's early season losses against Dayton and Bucknell and how the team will continue to use those past experiences in conference play.
Ball State welcomes Buffalo (9-5, 1-0 MAC) at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Worthen Arena. The Bulls rank No. 42 in the RPI rankings and were picked as favorites in the East Division in the MAC preseason poll.
Contact men's basketball reporter Robby General at email@example.com or on Twitter@rgeneraljr.