Cardinals rout Rockets with punishing paint presence
Ball State men’s basketball has been pouring it on in the paint recently, and its game against Toledo was no different.
For the third straight time, Ball State (18-9, 9-5 MAC) scored 40 or more points in the paint on the way to a 99-71 wire-to-wire victory over Toledo (19-8, 11-3 MAC).
“That’s obviously been the story,” head coach James Whitford said. “Being able adapt to the strengths of this team and become more physical. Our guys are starting to believe in it, and they’re developing a sense of confidence that we can beat you that way.”
Ball State Scoring Leaders
Tayler Persons (18)
Ishmael El-Amin (18)
Tahjai Teague (16)
Zach Gunn (16)
The Cardinals have now won four consecutive Mid-American Conference games, continuing their longest winning streak in conference play as they continue to look like a team that will be a problem when the MAC Tournament begins.
“Everybody’s having confidence to just go up strong and if someone misses to rebound and go up strong,” sophomore forward Tahjai Teague said. “That’s been helping us out. Just to keep playing strong.”
Teague was once again a problem for the opposition inside, finishing with his third straight double-double. The sophomore forward tallied 16 points and 12 rebounds on 7-13 from the floor in his team-leading 32 minutes.
“Tahjai has really impressed me because he went through a little stretch earlier in the year where he was struggling with his shot,” Whitford said. “He started really working on his game down low and really becoming physical and becoming aggressive around the basket. He’s added that element to his game and it’s critical.”
To complement the punishing performance inside, the Cardinals were all over the glass on the way to a 39-35 advantage on the boards. The team’s second-leading rebounder was freshman guard Ishmael El-Amin with seven. El-Amin played the best all-around game of his young career, finishing with a career-high 18 points on 6-8 shooting from the floor. El-Amin was driving aggressively to the basket and scoring layups on the interior throughout the game.
Tayler Persons was his usual self, finishing with 18 points to tie El-Amin for the team-high. The junior guard added four assists in a three-way tie for the team lead with El-Amin and freshman forward Zach Gunn. Persons didn’t hit a 3-pointer in the game, but he was attacking the basket and consistently scoring layups and pulling up for buckets in the paint.
“I feel like our team has shifted a lot,” Persons said. “Right now, it’s just a grit team where we’re going to put them down low and we’re just taking advantage of matchups right now.”
The attacking mindset of Ball State led to another 50 percent shooting performance from the floor, the team’s third in as many games. Ball State is now 11-0 when shooting 50 percent or better from the field.
Freshman guard Tyler Leedy got in on the interior scoring for Ball State. He scored his first career points with a baseline drive and layup late in the game, which caused the crowd and the Ball State bench to erupt.
Next up, Ball State will look to keep rolling when it hosts Northern Illinois on Tuesday, Feb. 20. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.