DeKALB, Ill. – Mid-American Conference West Division, meet the new Randy Davis.
The sophomore point guard of the Ball State University men's basketball team went through round one of MAC West play with a modest 6.5 points-per-game average.
But after finding a way to be both a valuable scorer and distributor in the Cardinals' 4-2 run through the MAC East – averaging 11.5 points and 4.7 assists in those six games – Davis entered Saturday's game at divisional rival Northern Illinois University with a renewed confidence and a simple approach:
When the Huskies sank in on sophomore center Jarrod Jones and the rest of the Cardinals' frontcourt, Davis was going to make it sting by converting his wide-open attempts on the perimeter.
And he did just that, finishing with a team-high 20 points – including 15 in the second half – as Ball State opened the second half of MAC West play with a 71-66 win over host Northern Illinois in front of 1,537 fans at the Convocation Center.
Davis said because Jones was successfully attacking the basket from the opening tip, he was able to put points on the scoreboard.
"During the beginning, we wanted to go down low to our post – they were going one-on-one there in the second half on Jarrod (Jones), and that kind of really opened up the floor for the entire game," Davis said. "When they double him, it opens it up a lot more, but when he's scoring like that, it opens it up a lot for us guards, and I just knocked down some shots."
Davis didn't just knock down "some shots." He knocked down big shots down the stretch to help give Ball State (13-11, 7-5 MAC) three road wins in the MAC for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
Davis hit 5-of-6 second-half shots against the Huskies, including two 3-pointers. But none of those points were more valuable than the ones in the final 3:09 of the game.
With Northern Illinois clinging to a 57-56 lead, Davis nailed a 3-pointer to give the Cardinals a two-point lead. The Huskies answered with a mid-range jumper from Sean Kowal to tie the game at 59, but Davis answered right back by finding Jones for a jumper of his own to extend the Ball State lead back to two points.
Northern Illinois punched right back with a 3-pointer from Michael Patton, but Davis was right there to make the play of the game, hitting a layup while being fouled with 1:57 remaining. The ensuing and-1 free throw pushed Ball State's lead back to two points, as Davis ended the final 3:09 stretch with eight points.
Northern Illinois coach Ricardo Patton came away impressed with the play of Davis after he scored just six points in Ball State's 62-48 home loss to Northern Illinois on Jan. 9. He said the combination of Davis and Jones, which combined for 36 points, made the difference.
"He was phenomenal," Ricardo Patton said. "When you have your five-man that's getting everybody into foul trouble and scoring, and you have your point guard and everyone else filling in behind him, it makes for a good recipe for success."
Ball State coach Billy Taylor said Davis's production while being closely guarded by the Huskies' best defender, Michael Patton, was crucial.
"(He was) playing like a point guard, making great decisions, stepping up and taking big shots, especially as they were really tight defensively," Taylor said. "Randy just continued to make good decisions and try to get it into the paint, and continued to make the right play."
With the win, the Cardinals move into sole possession of first place in the MAC West for the first time all season. Second-place Central Michigan is 6-5 in the West, but plays host today to the University of Toledo, which is winless in conference play.
Northern Illinois (8-16, 4-8 MAC), meanwhile, continues its nosedive. With Saturday's loss to Ball State, the Huskies losing streak reaches eight games. Northern Illinois, which opened MAC play with four straight wins, is six days away from going a month without a win.
"Boy, when they say it rains, it pours," Ricardo Patton said. "We've certainly showed the ability to play better basketball. For whatever reason, we haven't been able to sustain that."
The loss for the Huskies perhaps overshadows what was a career day for junior guard Xavier Silas. Silas had a game-high 30 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 9-of-10 from the free-throw line and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He made it a double-double with a career-high 10 rebounds.
In his two games against Ball State this season, Silas combined for 55 points and hit 24-of-25 free throws.
"He's such an effective scorer that when you foul him, it's almost like an automatic two," Taylor said of Silas. "The only thing that we could try to do is make him work on both sides of the floor."
Jones added 16 points and tied Davis for team-high honors with seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Pierre Sneed, a Chicago native, played in front of several friends and family members and didn't disappoint with 11 points of his own.
Ball State's next game could easily propel the Cardinals into the drivers' seat for a second-straight MAC West championship and first-round bye in the MAC Tournament, or it could send them in scrambles throughout the final three MAC games following it.
Ball State on Wednesday plays host to aforementioned Central Michigan in a West Division bout.