Juniors Tayler Persons and Trey Moses flex after Ball State scores on Toledo, OH during their game in Worthen Arena on Feb. 17. Eric Pritchett, DN
Strong 2nd half leads Ball State to 5th straight win
Ball State men's basketball has flexed its muscles on offense during its recent stretch of success. However, it took a little longer than usual in its 77-68 win over Northern Illinois (12-16, 5-9 MAC).
When Ball State (19-9, 10-5 MAC) entered the locker room at halftime, the team was on the wrong end of a 20-6 scoring difference in the paint and had only shot 37 percent from the floor despite leading by five. Sophomore forward Tahjai Teague was 0-4 from the field with just one point through the first 20 minutes.
Points: Trey Moses (23)
Rebounds: Trey Moses (12)
Assists: Tayler Persons (5)
Blocks: Trey Moses (3)
Then the second half arrived, and the tide turned.
The Cardinals lit it up from the floor in the second half, shooting 47 percent on 15 made baskets. Teague scored a dozen of his 13 points in the second, hitting five of his eight shots in the half.
Head coach James Whitford has put a big emphasis on getting out to fast starts in both halves, and that's exactly what Ball State did when its lead ballooned to as many as 23 points in the second half.
"I thought the first two possessions [of the second half] was the best minute and twenty seconds of basketball we've played since I've been here," Whitford said. "Our defense was stifling, we got defense to offense, we got the ball inside and kicked it back out to Tayler [Persons] for a wide open three and, when he shot it, we had three guys fighting with each other to get the rebound. I thought that focus to start the second half was exceptional."
The defense did its job while the offense took some time to find its rhythm. In the first half, the Cardinals held the Huskies to 41 percent from the floor and 1-6 from deep, not allowing a basket until nearly four minutes had passed.
Although Ball State was down 20-6 in the paint at the half, the team had used physical play inside to earn 17 free throw attempts, 13 of which they connected on.
"Every game in this league is a dogfight and this one was was too for a lot of the game," head coach James Whitford said. "I thought the second half, the way we started it, and really for about the first 15 minutes we were outstanding. The first half was a grind. We weren't playing that well on offense, but we were able to keep the lead because our defense was solid."
In the second half, the Cardinals were efficient and remained solid on defense. The Huskies didn't score until nearly three minutes had passed in the second half as the Cardinals opened with a quick five points.
Trey Moses was once again a force inside. He and Teague combined to score the first seven points of the second half for Ball State as the team began to wear down Northern Illinois in the paint. Moses finished with a career-high 23 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in his team-leading 34 minutes.
"We have a ton of confidence right now," Moses said. "We're coming ready to play every game ... we're just going out there and competing every game. ... We're more focused and just trying our best."
Teague saw Moses having his usual solid game, so he didn't get discouraged about his slow start.
"There was a mismatch on Trey, so I wasn't really too concerned about myself because Trey was hot all game," Teague said. "I always felt like we should play as if somebody's hot, then just keep giving it to them until they miss a couple in a row. They didn't have an answer for Trey, so that's why I wasn't too concerned about myself because he was picking up my slack, so credit to Trey."
Moses finished with his seventh double-double of conference play. After starting 1-3 from the floor, the junior center hit seven of his last eight attempts and shot a solid 7-9 from the charity stripe to cap another stellar performance for one of Ball State's go-to guys.
The Cardinals have now won five straight games and are 14-1 at home, continuing to gather momentum as the Mid-American Conference Tournament approaches.
Next up, Ball State will host Western Michigan in its final home game of the regular season. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday.