MEN'S BASKETBALL: Whitford, Ball State earns first win

Senior center Majok Majok keeps the ball away from a Taylor University player on Nov. 12 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY
Senior center Majok Majok keeps the ball away from a Taylor University player on Nov. 12 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY

Veggie pizza and a late night film session.

A pedestrian night, and hardly the celebration one would expect from a someone after winning his first game as a head coach. But that’s exactly what Ball State coach James Whitford planned to do after defeating Taylor University 73-53 in the Cardinals’ home opener.

“I thought we all played well as a team,” said freshman Zavier Turner, who had a game-high 17 points and was the Cardinals’ only double-digit scorer. “We stuck together, had a little mental lapse on defense, but we shared the ball well.”

The Cardinals jumped out to a 15-6 lead, and only trailed once (2-0), a stern juxtaposition from their slow starts against Marian University in the exhibition and Indiana State University on Saturday.

Whitford said he was pleased with his team’s perimeter defense on sharpshooters Ben Raichel and Jesse Coffey, who combined for just 6-18 (33 percent) from the field and 16 points after coming in averaging 51.5 percent from the field and nearly 26 points a game. In the first half, Ball State was given numerous opportunities on the offensive end by holding Taylor to 29 percent (9-31) from the field.

The extra possessions help cover the few blemishes Ball State had, like the 7-8 assist-to-turnover ratio. At halftime, Turner, who had no assists and three turnovers, said that Whitford told him to start looking to involve his teammates more after putting up the most shots on the team — though he was 4-7 from the field and 2-3 from three-point range.

“I’ve been a point guard all my life, so I’ve always kind of been pass first,” said Turner, who logged four assists and no turnovers in the second half. “I just try and take what the defense gives me.”

While many of the same pressing concerns burdened Ball State — like its 16 turnovers and 6-24 shooting from behind the arc — the Cardinals seem to be figuring out their new up-tempo system and which rotations fit.

Whitford implemented a new, youthful rotation, with freshmen Turner, Mark Alstork, Quentin Payne and Franko House and sophomore Bo Calhoun, that provided energy in spurts.

“We love playing together,” said Payne, who had game-high five assists and a dunk to cap a 9-0 run that ended the first half. “[Turner] has that fast mentality and makes great reads off ball screens and makes a two [guard]’s life easy. … Bo brings the energy … We all just contrast each other really well.”

After a frustrating game against Indiana State, senior big man Majok Majok returned to his top-20 rebounding form from a year ago and pulled in a game-high 16 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass. Majok’s offensive game (2-7 from the field with six points), however, looked rushed at times and still is adjusting to the new, fast style of play.

“I had a few easy misses,” Majok said. “I try to stay within the flow of the offense, but I need to take my time when I go up.”

Although Taylor, out of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, isn’t a marquee opponent, the win still marked an important accomplishment for a team in transition.

Everything is still new to the Cardinals — Whitford referred to Greek’s Pizzeria as “the one over there on University, whatever it’s called” — and the learning curve is still there, but obvious progress is being made.