Rebounding crucial as Ball State opens up MAC play with 72-62 win over Eastern Michigan
Don’t let the Ball State men’s basketball players know that Eastern Michigan (9-5, 0-1 MAC) entered Tuesday’s Mid-American Conference opener with one of the best rebounders in the country.
None of that mattered after opening tip as Ball State (10-4, 1-0 MAC) crashed the glass and used 40 minutes of team rebounding to win its first conference contest of the season, defeating Eastern Michigan 72-62.
Entering the game, Eastern Michigan boasted the third-best rebounding margin in the MAC at +2.1. That number is on its way down as Ball State owned the boards Tuesday night with a +9 margin by way of a 42-33 advantage on the glass.
Eastern Michigan’s 6-foot-10 junior center James Thompson IV had the potential to be a big problem for Ball State. He entered the game averaging a double-double with 16.4 points and 11.8 rebounds. The nation’s fifth-leading rebounder was instead held in check for most of the game, finishing with eight points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes before fouling out with six minutes remaining in the game.
“We wanted to make sure all five guys contributed to the glass,” head coach James Whitford said. “He [Thomson IV] could’ve gotten a couple more late and then the perimeter guys came in late and were fighting for the ball.
“He’s a great player and a great offensive rebounder and I thought our guys did great to hold him to eight points and eight rebounds for who he is.”
Ball State certainly saw a boost in rebounding production from everyone on the floor. Six different Cardinals finished the game with at least three rebounds. That effort was led by junior center Trey Moses who finished with 10 boards to go along with 13 points in his season-high 30 minutes. The double-double from Moses was his third in the team’s last four outings.
Sophomore forward Tahjai Teague provided eight rebounds off the bench in his 24 minutes, including a controlled tip that got the crowd on its feet and gave Ball State a two-point lead, one they would not relinquish for the final eight minutes of the game.
“We like to say to gang rebound,” Teague said. “That was the biggest emphasis of the game is to make sure we all rebound together, and we outrebounded them so I think we got the job done.”
Junior guard Tayler Persons and senior guard Jeremie Tyler both matched their season-highs in rebounding with five and three, respectively. Sophomore forward Kyle Mallers finished the game with seven rebounds to complement his team-high 17 points in 27 minutes. Senior guard Sean Sellers finished with four rebounds and five points to round out the Ball State players who finished with at least four rebounds.
“I think we’re just rolling right now and trying to get better in every practice,” Mallers said. “I think using our past experiences coming up in the conference will be key for us.”
Ball State returns to Worthen Arena on Jan. 6 to host Buffalo in the final outing of its six-game home stand. The opening tip of that game is set for 2 p.m.
Contact Nate Fields with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NateNada.