Junior guard Tayler Persons chirps at the crowd during the game against Akron Jan. 27 at John E. Worthen Arena. Persons was one of three 20-point scorers. Eric Pritchett, DN
Three pointers: What to watch between Ball State and Toledo
Outside of Buffalo, who is undefeated in conference play, Toledo remains one of the hottest teams in the Mid-American Conference.
Ball State (13-8, 4-4 MAC) takes on Toledo (15-6, 7-1 MAC) on the road tonight for the first of two matchups between them this season. Following its first loss to the Bulls, the Rockets have bursted ahead for seven straight conference wins, including a pair against preseason MAC West Division favorite Western Michigan.
While the Cardinals have won three of the last four matchups against the Rockets, head coach James Whitford knows that this is one of the best conference teams they'll see all year.
"The thing about them that's hard to deal with is they've got great balance," Whitford said. "They can score from any every spot. They don't have anyone out there that you question. They can hurt you in of different ways."
Here's what to expect in Tuesday night's matchup between the two front-runners in the MAC West.
1) High-scoring affair
Toledo and Ball State are two of the top five highest scoring teams in the MAC, putting up 81.1 and 76.8 points per game, respectively.
On the flip side, the two teams scoring defense are among the worst in the MAC with Toledo (9th) giving up 75.1 PPG and Ball State (11th) giving up 76 PPG. If the Cardinals double overtime game against Akron was any indication, this has the chance to be another high scoring affair.
The deciding point in this game might very well be the 3-point shooting. While both teams have put up around the same number of shots from behind the arc this season, Toledo has hit a lot more of them, leading the MAC with a 41.6 percentage from 3-point range. If Ball State can get hot, it can keep up, but the long ball has been an inconsistency for the Cardinals all season long.
2) One of the MAC's best
On top of being one of the most prolific scoring teams in the MAC, Toledo has the conferences third and sixth highest scorers in Tre'Shaun Fletcher and Jaelan Sanford.
Whitford had high praise about Fletcher, a transfer from Colorado, who is shooting 48 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range while averaging 8.4 rebounds per game and having an assist-turnover ratio of 1.72.
"Through eight games, he would be the player of the year in the conference if it came out today," Whitford said.
The 6-foot-7 senior guard/forward — who is averaging 18.7 points per game — isn't the only weapon that the Rockets have, either. Sanford is averaging 16.6, Nate Navigato is averaging 12.9 and Luke Knapke is averaging 11 points per game.
Since entering conference play, however, Ball State has had four different players average more than 10 points per game as well. Senior guard Tayler Persons is leading the way with 14.4, with junior center Trey Moses (13.3 PPG), sophomore forward Tahjai Teague (10.4 PPG) and sophomore Kyle Mallers (10 PPG) following right behind.
3) Working through lineup adjustments
Ball State's lineup looks much different now than it did a month ago.
Following the arrest of Jontrell Walker and the dismissal of Jeremie Tyler, the Cardinals have been trying to adjust its lineup accordingly. Last game, senior Sean Sellers played the 2-spot, Mallers went to the 3 and Teague owned the 4 and that seemed to work well, but its obvious there's been growing pains.
Working in freshman Zach Gunn following his injury and finding another guard replacement, whether that be senior Francis Kiapway (who only played 5 minutes against Akron) or redshirt sophomore Josh Thompson, will be dependent on the situation that Ball State's in.
Whatever happens, Trey Moses says the Cardinals main focus is about getting themselves better.
"Our goal is to win the MAC Championship regular season but we've realized that thet's not likely the way Buffalo is going," Moses said. "We're really just focusing on being the best version of ourselves every day. ... Come MAC Tournament time, hopefully we're one of the hottest teams in the MAC."
Ball State and Toledo tipoff at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 from Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio.