Improving its record to 3-1 while advancing to the championship round of the First Merchants Classic, No. 16 Ball State downed Elon University 106-65 Friday night at Worthen Arena.
With solid shooting in the second half and a very boisterous, supportive crowd throughout, the Cardinals win set the tournament's championship game scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday. Ball State will take on Austin Peay in an attempt to capture the crown for it's host tournament.
According to Ball State coach Tim Buckley, the crowd had a lot to do with Ball State's sucess.
"I was impressed, very impressed," Buckley said of the crowd. "I kind of teared up when I walked out tonight. We were playing Elon. Not Michigan or Michigan State we were playing Elon and everyone came out to see Ball State.
"That's what we want, everyone to come out and see Ball State," Buckley said. "I hope they appreciated how hard our guys played because they not only played hard for themselves but they played hard for the crowd.
"We have a chance to have one of the toughest places to play in college basketball and that's a lot of fun. That's why we wanted out guys to go celebrate with them after the game was over with."
That "celebrate with them" Buckley referred to was when the second-year coach suggested to his players after the game to go celebrate in the stands.
And they did.
Cardinal Chris Williams, who finished with 19 points and two rebounds, agreed with Buckley in the fact that the crowd was a big help Friday night.
"We were very excited to see so many people come out and support us," Williams said. "It kind of pumped us up in the beginning."
It wasn't just the crowd that lead the Cardinals to a 41 point lead by the end of the game however, it was Ball States relentless shooting abilities.
In the first half of Friday's game the Cardinals shot only 40.5 percent from field goal range while in the second half Ball State upped the average to 70.4 percent.
Elon coach Mark Simons was impressed with the Cardinal sharp shooting.
"They really really shoot the basketball," Simons said. "We didn't get there. And even sometimes when we did get there they were still able to get them in."
"Tim has a great concept and it works for them," Simons said. "They have the kids to do it."
One "kid" who lead the attack for the Cardinals in the second half was Rob Robbins.
Robbins finished the game with 17 points and was five for six from behind the arc.
"We told the kids that Robbins is a kid that as soon as he comes in past the exit sign he's within range and he showed that tonight," Simons said.
Another player that stood out for Ball State Friday was Theron Smith. Smith dominated the boards against the Phoenix pulling in 17 of Ball State's 39 total rebounds. It was a career-high for the starting forward.
One aspect of the game Ball State did some improving in Friday evening was points in the paint. The Cards finished the game with 34 points under the basket.
"We posted up strong," Buckley said. "They did a good job holding off the defender and the guys on the outside did a good job looking inside."
Buckley mentioned he especially like a play in the second half when Lonnie Jones, the center, stepped out and fed the ball to Smith for the lay in.
"Even though he's seven feet, we expect him to be a basketball player," Buckley said of Jones.
After Friday's game, Simons described his frustration.
"We didn't do a very good job of taking care of the basketball and I think that is credit to Ball State's defense too," Simons said. "We knew transition defense was going to be an issue and that stuck out like a sore thumb.
"If we are going to be a team that competes at this level then we just have to play better."