New offense, defense, a work in progress

Ball State head coach James Whitford talks to his team in the final minutes of play Nov. 4 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO MARCEY BURTON
Ball State head coach James Whitford talks to his team in the final minutes of play Nov. 4 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO MARCEY BURTON

After nearly a decade of success as an assistant, first-year head coach James Whitford had an eerie feeling walking into the locker room down by 15 to a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics program.

Marian University, coming off a loss to Nova Southeastern University, was doing whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted and dominated the first half and made Ball State’s 62-59 victory seem like an impossibility at the time.

“I felt like I was in an episode of ‘Twilight Zone,’” Whitford said. “I went in there at halftime and told [assistant] Bill [Wright], ‘this is going to be the shortest tenure in the history of Ball State coaches.’”

Whitford was kidding with his comment, but fans at Worthen Arena had to be anxious watching an all too familiar, stagnant offense that sputtered out 22 points in the first half — last year’s team only scored 22 points or fewer in a half six times.

Marian’s lineup, laden with 11 upperclassmen, took advantage of a Ball State team facing the learning curve of Whitford’s fast-paced offense that pushes the ball. Ball State turned the ball over 13 times in the first half compared to eight made shots.

Whitford compared the team’s panicked offense in the first half to an imaginary sellout crowd at Worthen Arena scrambling for the exits after a pulled fire alarm. All the worries of a program in transition came to fruition with only 28 days of practice under its belt, trying to find the proper balance.

“I think we were still okay,” freshman point guard Zavier Turner, the lone bright spot for Ball State in the first half said. “It was our first game. We felt a little rushed, and everybody was nervous.”

The nerves found their way down to the defensive end as well, as a fairly simple offense produced a 51.7 percent field goal percentage for Marian in the first half. False motion and backdoor cuts along with drive and kicks yielded shoot around-type looks from behind the arc and uncontested layups for the Knights.

In the second half, Ball State showed flashes of potential against a tiring Marian team. Four of their eight players logged at least 33 minutes, and the fatigue started making the Knights foul instead of moving their feet.

By the 14 minute mark, Ball State was in the bonus, and made 11 of its 40 second half points from the free throw line after Marian’s seventh team foul.

The offense started clicking when a concerted effort was made to give senior forward Majok Majok the ball closer to the basket. Majok said Whitford had told him to look for deeper paint position at the half, which was much easier to find against a gassed Marian team.

Also, invading the paint for Ball State was freshman Franko House, whose 10 second half points spurred Ball State in crucial moments.

Three freshmen, House, Turner and Quinten Payne combined for more than half of Ball State’s points with 35, while the returning scorers like seniors Chris Bond, Tyler Koch and Jesse Berry, who did not start, had 13 points together.

“I wish I could tell you this is how we drew it up, but it wasn’t,” Whitford said. “This is an exhibition game, and the purpose is to get better. We’ll get better from it. We needed this, and we’ve got a long way to go.”


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