For Ball State, in its win over Buffalo Wednesday night, 87-63, there were three elements: the familiar, the not-so-familiar and glimpses of the past.
Falling back into the rhythm of familiarity was Theron Smith, who reclaimed his stance in the double-double world, finishing with a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds. The performance marked his 15th double-double of the season.
"I don't think they are going to hold down 'T' too much longer," junior Chris Williams said. "He came out and he was very aggressive tonight and things just fell for him."
Head coach Tim Buckley was pleased to see Smith's numbers back in the box score.
"He knew this was a big game for him to come back and play the way he is capable of," Buckley said. "The last couple of games he has played good basketball but not what he is capable of. He was conscious of that and he wanted to help his team tonight."
Not so familiar for Ball State (16-8 overall, 9-4 Mid-American Conference) Wednesday night was the starting lineup. For only the second time this season, Buckley altered the starting five. Senior Billy Lynch, who was a regular starter for the team last season, started in place of Williams at the guard position.
"It wasn't really a decision of Lynch over Williams," Buckley said. "When we came back from Ohio we decided it was going to be the five best players in practice, defensively, who started. Unfortunately for Chris, he had some knee trouble on Monday and wasn't able to go.
"Billy just went out and took a spot," he said. "He just came after it on Monday and did it again on Tuesday."
Not only was Lynch's defense what Buckley was looking for, but he also thought Williams' presence off of the bench would be effective as well.
"We also felt like bringing Chris off of the bench was going to help us with an offensive punch," Buckley said.
Williams finished with 17 points, 15 of which came from behind the three-point line.
"I think the reason Williams performed the way he did was because he played very good defense," Buckley said. "He had really good focus tonight."
Buckley indicated that the starting lineup might be subject to future changes.
"We have practice tomorrow and we'll find out again tomorrow and we'll find out Friday," Buckley said. "You have to keep it competitive this time of year. There is so much at stake."
Sophomore Robert Owens supplied the glimpse of Ball State's past.
Owens finished the contest with a season- and career-high 12 points. At the same time, the 6-foot-7-inch forward pulled down four rebounds. The highest Owens had scored all season was 11 points, in the season-opener against Kansas, at Indiana University on Dec. 8 and against IUPUI on Dec. 15.
"He had a big night tonight and we need him to do that," Lynch said. "He looked like the 'Rio' of November tonight. He brings so much energy."
Much like Williams, Buckley accredited Owens' success against the Bulls to his defensive effort.
"(He had) great defense and he got traffic rebounds," Buckley said. "He played the way he is capable of playing with a lot of energy. I thought his offense flowed from that."
Also playing well for the Cardinals Wednesday was center Lonnie Jones, who matched a career high and set a season high in blocks, with seven for the contest. Jones also scored 15 points in the Cardinal victory.
All in all, Ball State's 24-point win over Buffalo (10-14, 5-8) pleased most, including Williams, who didn't start for the first time this season.
"We are just taking it one game at a time now," Williams said. "We need to bring this type of effort. We don't want to just slip by teams by four or five points. We want to get 20-plus."
Williams explained that the team is really beginning to focus on the here and now.
"We just tried to come out and play. Maui is over," Williams said. "That was a long time ago. So now, coach talks about us producing as individuals and as a program."