Junior guard, Jontrell Walker, searches for a 3-point shot in the first half against Oakland City Nov. 28 at John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State plays Notre Dame Dec. 5 in South Bend. Grace Hollars, DN File
Three pointers: What to watch between Ball State and Notre Dame
Ball State men's basketball will face what is arguably its toughest opponent of the season Tuesday night.
Ball State (4-4) travels to South Bend for its only December road game against No. 9 Notre Dame (7-1). This meeting marks the third time the Cardinals have played a Power Five opponent this year, and the Fighting Irish are the fourth top-100 team the Cardinals will face in their non-conference schedule, according to the Ken Pomeroy rankings.
Two of those games, a 24-point loss against Oregon and a 39-point loss against Oklahoma, are the only two that head coach James Whitford said his team didn't play well.
"I think the two games that we haven't played really in my eyes, I thought that Oklahoma, we were a disaster," Whitford said. "I thought at Oregon we had some stretches where we were better than we were against Oklahoma, but still, all-in-all, it wasn't a good performance for us."
After Ball State's third straight win against IUPUI on Dec. 2, Whitford said his team is capable of beating anyone. But what will it take for Ball State to pull out a win in its first meeting against Notre Dame since 1976 while facing a top-25 team for the first time since Dec. 20, 2014?
1) Keep shooting well
Riding a three-game winning streak, Ball State has excelled shooting the ball from the field, behind the 3-point line and from the free-throw line.
Ball State has shot better than 53 percent in each of the games after having its best shooting performance against a Division l team in 15 years, averaging 61.7 percent from the field in its 93-85 victory over Indiana State.
Three players — senior Sean Sellers, junior Tayler Persons and sophomore Tahjai Teague — have scored in double figures in each of the contests. This season Ball Sate is shooting 46.2 percent from the field, 33.8 percent from 3-point range and 76.6 percent from the free-throw line. Persons, sophomore Kyle Mallers and Teague are averaging double-digit performances at 15.3, 12 and 10.9, respectively.
While those are respectable numbers, Notre Dame is shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from 3-point range with three players averaging 14 or more points per game — Bonzie Colson (18.8), Matt Farrell (15.9) and TJ Gibbs (14.3).
In order for the Cardinals to walk away with their first-ever victory against the Fighting Irish, they will need to continue their strong shooting trend.
2) Stay fresh on the court
None of Ball State's players average more than 30 minutes a game because, as junior center Trey Moses puts it, they "have 10 guys that can start for any Division l school."
The Cardinals' lineup has seen even playing time across the board, with seven players six players racking up more than 20 minutes per game and freshman Zach Gunn (16.1) and Ishmael El-Amin (19.1) along with Moses (17.3) sitting right outside that threshold.
Comparatively, Notre Dame relies on its starting lineup to play a majority of the game, with four out of the five averaging more than 30 minutes per contest. Still, fatigue hasn't been an issue for the Fighting Irish, who have outscored opponents 346-248 in the second half this season.
Ball State's has outscored opponents 347-335 in the second half, but both Oklahoma and Oregon dominated in the second half, making the final 20 minutes of the game vital for Ball State on Tuesday night.
3) Focus on turnovers
Turnovers are a focus on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball.
As a team, Notre Dame has committed just 72 turnovers all year with T.J. Gibbs leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.57. The sophomore guard has committed just seven turnovers all season.
In its three-game winning streak, Ball State has forced opponents to turn the ball over 41 times. However, the Cardinals turned the ball over 49 times in that same stretch, so limiting turnovers will be a key against a Fighting Irish team that forces nine turnovers per game.
Notre Dame is favored by 18 points, but Ball State is playing some of its best basketball coming into this game. While a victory doesn't necessarily equate success for Whitford, he knows that anything can happen.
"I'm hoping we can play better, and we're more than capable of putting together the upset victory against anyone. It's college basketball, we've all seen it, it may happen," Whitford said. "We're capable of being one of those teams, but I want to play better than we did in each of those games"
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.
Contact men's basketball reporter Robby General at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rgeneraljr.