No. 16 Ball State claims First Merchants Classic title, defeats Austin Peay, 81-60

After another double-digit win, No. 16 Ball State claimed the First Merchants Classic tournament crown defeating Austin Peay State University 81-60. That win didn't come after a rather rough first half from the Cardinals however.

In the first half alone, Ball State shot only 18.2 percent from behind the three-point arc, usually the Cardinals most deadly weapon.

According to Ball State coach Tim Buckley, he noticed his team wasn't quite itself in pregame run-through.

"Our run-through wasn't very crisp," he said. "I think it kind of carried over a little bit. It's a long season though, and that is going to happen."

Buckley went on to explain it was more than the "not very crisp" that caused the score to be tied at the half, 32-32.

"Our shooting percentage is predicated by our defense," Buckley said. "In the first half we had eight deflections and we've been averaging over 40 a game."

The second year coach went on to say that his team usually shoots the ball better when its hands are up and deflecting balls on defense.

For Ball State's Petie Jackson, who finished the game with a team-high 20 points and was named to the All-Tournament team, the first half woes were a little surprising.

"I really don't know (what the problem is)," he said. "It's just something we are going to have to work out. It seems like we come out a little flat in the first half. As we grow and mature I think we will get better at that."

The second half of Saturday's game for Ball State was a different story however.

Ball State came out from the break and nailed four of four three-pointers in the first four minutes of the second half.

"We really emphasized shooting the three," Jackson said. "Coach just encourages us to keep shooting. That first half they just weren't falling for us. We are still going to shoot them though."

The Cardinal shooting problems in the first half could be credited partially to the Austin Peay defensive game plan.

According to Governor head coach, Dave Loos, defending against the three-point shot was very important to his team.

"Our game plan was to not cover down in the post and to play what we call 'push defense,'" Loos said. "We were going to stay on the perimeter out the with (Ball State's) shooters."

One player from Austin Peay that kept the Cardinals on its defensive toes was Nick Stapleton. Stapleton was the leading scorer in the first half with 13 points. He ended the game as the leading scorer also with 29 points.

"I think he is playing a lot smarter," Loos said of his player. "He penetrated the defense. I thought he had a terrific tournament."

Stapleton was also named to the All-Tournament team.

It wasn't just Loos that was impressed with senior guard, Buckley expressed his feelings for Stapleton as well.

"What a great player," Buckley said. "We tried to put him in pick and rolls when he was in defense in the second half to try to tire him out a little bit.

"He has like four different speeds," Buckley said. "I was really surprised with how quick he is. You can not reach on him because you aren't going to steal the ball from him. He can make you stand up and then he's gone."

The player who set the tone of the majority of the game and tournament for Ball State was Theron Smith. Smith was named to the All-Tournament team and was also crowned the MVP of the tournament.

Smith ended the game with 17 points and 11 rebounds. That just after the Cardinals game against Elon on Friday when Smith pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds.

"Sometimes you take him for granted," Buckley said of Smith. "What I really admire about him this year is everyday in practice he comes to work. We has played to the level he needs to play at."

Overall, despite the rough first half, Buckley was pleased with the outcome of the game against Austin Peay.

"We really wanted to get this championship back," Buckley said. "Even at times when we didn't play well we adjusted.

"To have a 21 point win and feel like we can play better is definitely a tribute to our guys," he said.


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