Cheerleaders and Charlie Cardinal run down the court during the second half of a Ball State Men’s Basketball game against Central Michigan, Jan. 16 at John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State defeated Central Michigan, 76-82. Grace Hollars, DN
Ball State men's basketball set for critical final home stretch
In the up and down year that's been Ball State men's basketball, one thing has remained consistent — victories are almost certain at Worthen Arena.
Ball State's last-second victory, coming by way of yet another Tayler Persons 3-pointer, on Tuesday night pushed the Cardinals to an 11-1 record at home and kicked off a late season stretch of home games that will have heavy implications on seeding in the Mid-American Conference tournament. Outside of its sole loss to Buffalo on Jan. 6, Ball State has been able to handle pretty much any opponent in Muncie, which is good news considering four of the Cardinals next five games will be played at home.
"Our record speaks for itself at home," Persons said. "We love being here, you know, we love being in front of our fans. We have a great crowd, a great turnout and it feels good to be home."
There's probably no better time for the Cardinals to be playing at home, either. Ball State (15-9, 6-5 MAC) is currently in a four-way tie for third place in the MAC with Western Michigan, Miami and its Friday night opponent Kent State. Currently, the Cardinals would lose any sort of tie-breaker with each of the aforementioned teams but a pair of home victories could change that with how tight the MAC standings are.
In the final seven game of the season, not only will Ball State get a chance to redeem itself against Kent State and Western Michigan, but it will also have the opportunity to make some headway on the West Division leader Toledo, a 9-2 conference team that Ball State has already beaten. And all of those games will be played inside Worthen Arena.
Playing at home has its obvious advantages like having an increasingly large crowd and a familiarity with the gym, but it also reduces fatigue from traveling and offers head coach James Whitford and staff time to figure out how to get some late-season momentum as the conference tournament nears.
"I think being at home really helps and part of it is just learning," Whitford said. "We're just still finding some things [out] and that's what I hope we can get sorted out here over the next few weeks. We have an easier travel schedule when we're playing at home and we're getting more experience here at the end."
Part of Ball State's inconsistency, particularly on the road, is attributed to the team's different style of play at this point in the season compared to the beginning of the year. Losing two big time shooters in Jontrell Walker and Jeremie Tyler, has attributed to the Cardinals inconsistent offensive performances.
"We kind of have to find ourselves a bit as a team," Whitford said. "Early in the year, through the first nine of 10 games, we were a team that was scoring the ball at an exceptionally high rate. ... We're not that team anymore. We can still be good on offense and we can still score, but we're not going to be the same team that we were."
Ball State is seventh in the MAC in scoring offense and its 59-56 win over Bowling Green was the lowest point total the team has had in any victory this season. During Ball State's nine-game winning streak earlier in the season, the Cardinals put up no less than 70 points in a single game.
While the team dynamic has changed, Ball State has kept finding way to win. Still, it's going to need to figure out it's dynamic quickly because whether or not the Cardinals can secure a first round bye in the MAC tournament will be determined over the next few games.
The good news? The Cardinals are playing at home.