The Ball State University men's basketball team entered Thanksgiving Break undefeated and in anticipation of both its first road game of the season and a home matchup against a team some considered to be a simple task.
But after those two games, the Cardinals find themselves at 2-2 and looking for answers at the wrong time. Ball State begins its toughest stretch of the non-conference schedule on Wednesday with a home game against Butler University, which is ranked No. 12 in the nation.
- Game 3: Ball State at Temple -
Ball State traveled to Philadelphia last Tuesday to take on a Temple University team that has been thriving this season under its three-headed monster in Ryan Brooks, Juan Fernandez and Lavoy Allen.
The Owls entered this season looking to replace the void left by last year's senior star Dionte Christmas. Brooks, Fernandez and Allen were up to the challenge against Ball State.
Temple handled Ball State by 20 points, 66-46, as the Owls' trio combined for 46 points and 19 assists to just two turnovers.
The Owls also took advantage of the Cardinals' leading scorer, sophomore center Jarrod Jones, sitting on the bench for a majority of the first half with foul trouble.
Jones didn't record his first basket of the game until the 4:52 mark in the first half and finished with a season-low nine points and seven rebounds.
Ball State was led by freshman guard Jauwan Scaife who had 10 points and three assists and steals apiece, as 12 Cardinals played in the blowout.
- Game 4: UC-Davis at Ball State -
Throw RPI rankings out the window.
UC-Davis entered Saturday's game at Worthen Arena ranked 338th out of 348 possible NCAA Division I programs, but possessed the height to quite possibly hamper any team it faces.
The Aggies' starting lineup against Ball State read 6-foot-5, 6-foot-8, 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10. Combine the height and the Cardinals inability to convert several second-half free throws and layups, and the Cardinals lost 60-58 in front of 2,696 fans.
Ball State made 19-of-32 (59.4 percent) of its free throw attempts in the game, including 12-of-23 (52.2 percent) in the second half.
"In a tight ball game, a one-possession ball game, you've got to be able to make your free throws," coach Billy Taylor said. "We have confidence in our guys that they will and that they will keep working on it, and they'll make those plays for us."
Taylor said the Cardinals struggled offensively by trying to figure out UC-Davis's "unique" 1-3-1 extended zone defensive scheme that often times befuddled the Cardinals' ball handlers just as they brought the ball past half court.
Ball State had 16 turnovers in the game to just 11 assists.
"[UC-Davis] did a great job sticking to their game plan and playing their defense," Jones said, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. "That 1-3-1 zone, it was aggressive coming in to trap. I think they did a good job putting ball pressure on the wings and the outside to keep them from throwing the ball in."
Despite the second-half troubles, the Cardinals found some holes in the Aggies' defense in the first half. The Cardinals led 32-28 at halftime in a period where they shot 11-of-27 (40.7 percent) from the field, including 3-of-6 from the 3-point line and 7-of-9 (77.8 percent) on free throw attempts.
"I thought we did a better job in the first half of once the ball got into the corner, we cut into open areas," Taylor said. "Second half, we stood a little bit more, and things really got stagnant."
Ball State also struggled in its matchup against 6-foot-10-inch Dominic Calegari.
The senior forward wasn't afraid to shoot from beyond the 3-point arc against Ball State, hitting 5-of-7 3-point attempts and finishing with a game-high 24 points.
"[Calegari is] a tough cover and he's a little bit of a unique player that is very, very good on the perimeter and also pretty good on the post," Taylor said. "He got some free, open looks, and that kind of got him going to where he was able to go down to the post and be effective, as well."
For the second straight game, the Cardinals were led offensively by Scaife.
Scaife had a team-high 14 points — tying his career high — on 3-of-7 shooting from 3-point land, one game after scoring a team-best 10 points in Ball State's 66-46 loss at Temple.
Scaife has reached double figures in all four games and is averaging 12.5 points per game this season.
Senior forward Terrence Watson also notched his first-career double-double by scoring 11 points and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.
- Tough road ahead -
Ball State's road to ending its current two-game funk doesn't get any easier from this point.
The Cardinals host Butler at 7 p.m. on Wednesday before traveling to Indiana State University on Dec. 9 and Tennessee Tech on Dec. 12.
The team then travels to play No. 6 Purdue University on Dec. 19 at Conseco Fieldhouse before beginning a 3-game homestand over Winter Break.