Ball State men's basketball went into the locker room at halftime struggling to find an offensive rhythm, shooting just 33 percent from the field. Thanks to some active hands on defense, the Cardinals found themselves with just a two-point deficit at the break.

After halftime, Ball State (6-4) kept forcing the turnovers while finding its groove offensively, forcing Valparaiso (8-2) into 18 turnovers and staying close until junior guard Tayler Persons sealed the win with a second consecutive game-winning 3-pointer.

“That was a big difference, they turned the ball over 18 times and it led to our 15 points off those 18 turnovers,” head coach James Whitford said. “Their shooting percentages were a little high for my comfort, 45 percent from the field and 41 percent from three but I think what’s really misleading about that is they turned it over 18 times, so when you look at our defensive numbers they’re probably a little better than those shooting percentages show.”

Senior guard Jeremie Tyler led Ball State defensively with three steals, while Persons, sophomore forward Kyle Mallers, senior forward Sean Sellers and sophomore forward Tahjai Teague all had one steal each.

“We preached to stay locked in,” Tyler said. “The team does need my defensive presence out there and I do really get after it on the ball.”

Ball State’s active hands on defense led to six Valparaiso players finishing the game with two or more turnovers. Redshirt sophomore Derrik Smits was forced into four of those turnovers and senior guard Max Joseph wasn’t far behind him as he recorded three.

After hanging around in the first half despite poor shooting percentages, the Cardinals went on a 12-0 run just minutes into the second half as they caught fire. Two Valparaiso turnovers in a span of 18 seconds helped spark the Ball State run, as Sellers finished an open dunk off a steal and immediately followed it up by hustling back and drawing a charge at the other end.

“I haven’t really shot the well so far this year,” Sellers said. "I was trying to find other ways to help my team win, trying to stay on the floor and just trying to compete and help give our team the best chance to win.

"We didn’t play great by any means, but we were able to scratch and claw and battle. We were fortunate enough to make the last shot and we’re sitting here with a win so if we’re on all aspects we’re a really fantastic team but if we can rub some of these games out and find ways to win these games, then we’re going to be a really tough team to beat in late February and early March.”

In a game that saw the Cardinals behind in most statistical categories, the Cardinals did exactly what Sellers said, scratched and clawed their way to a fifth consecutive victory in front of a season-best 5,009 fans in Worthen Arena.

Ball State will get 10 days off before returning to Worthen Arena to host North Florida in the second of its six-game home stand. Tipoff will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 19.

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