Instant classic? Ball State beats Akron in record-breaking performance
For about 33 minutes, there wasn’t much excitement to be had.
The Cardinals bench was thinner, with senior guard Jeremie Tyler being dismissed from the team prior to the game. Scoring totals were low, with both teams combined for 20 points in the first 10 minutes. And loose balls ran rampant, as Ball State and Akron went into halftime with 12 and 10 turnovers, respectively.
But none of the 3,867 fans in attendance will remember the first three-quarters of the game. Instead, they’ll remember the last 17 minutes of back-and-forth basketball that ended with Ball State prevailing 111-106 in double overtime.
"I thought it was a great win," head coach James Whitford said. "We got off to a rough start. It was a mentally challenging game for us ... Eventually we broke their back inside. We consistently got the ball in the box and we drew a lot of fouls. This was a crazy game but I’ve been a part of a lot in overtime, including some here.”
The win pushes Ball State (13-8, 4-4 MAC) to an even conference record, keeping them tied for second in the West Division, and keeps Akron (10-10, 3-5 MAC) at the bottom of the East. That fact will also likely be forgot by anyone who watched the game.
What will be remembered is the records set in one of the highest scoring games of the season. Like the 217 total points scored that became the highest total in Worthen Arena, the 106 Akron points that were the most scored by both a visiting team and a losing visiting team in Ball State's history and the 111 points that reached third-most for Ball State in a single game.
Sophomore Tahjai Teague was dubbed the player of the game after his career-high 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. That award could just have easily went to some of his teammates, too. Junior Trey Moses and sophomore Kyle Mallers had career-high scoring nights, putting up 26 and 22 points, respectively. Junior Tayler Persons also finished with 26 points and senior Sean Sellers, who fouled out with 20 seconds left in regulation, finished with 10 of his own.
The Cardinals main focus on Saturday was trying to stop Akron's Jimond Ivey who broke a Worthen Arena record with 48 points scored, shooting 9-12 from beyond the 3-point line and 15-23 (65 percent) from the field. Overall, Ivey's strong shooting performance was balanced out by the rest of the Zips team as they finished shooting 34.1 percent — slightly below their season average. Down the stretch, Akron got into foul trouble, losing three different players by the end of the game.
While Whitford never claims that one game is more important than another, he said that the win did relieve some pressures that his players were feeling after losing three of the last four Mid-American Conference games.
"I feel like the expectations started to weigh on us a little bit," Whitford said. "Each loss becomes a little bit more powerful, more meaningful because of where you think you're supposed to be. ... I certainly feel like it was starting to affect us."
On top of the on-the-court issues, Ball State has been dealing with several off-the-court issues the past couple weeks. With both Jontrell Walker and Jeremie Tyler no longer with the team, it would be easy for the Cardinals to fall apart.
But they always seem to find a way to bounce back.
"We've been dealt a lot of difficult situations right now, so we've just got to keep on," Persons said. "Be ready by March and go into the conference tournament as dangerous as anybody. That's our mindset right now.
"We're just trying to get as good as we can before that tournament happens."
That's been the mindset for Ball State all season, looking forward to March. While Whitford admits that his team doesn't play up to its potential at times, he says that they're still going through lineup adjustments with Teague, Mallers and now a newly vacant guard spot. In the absence of Tyler, redshirt sophomore Josh Thompson saw seven minutes compared to senior Francis Kiapway who saw five on the night. Whitford said that decision was based on the defensive talent that Thompson possesses.
Ball State is back in action on Jan. 30 against West Division leader Toledo (14-6, 6-1 MAC) on the road.