Ball State men's basketball played Kent State Feb. 9 in John E. Worthen Arena. The Cardinals won 87-68.
Unstoppable offense leads to Ball State’s wire-to-wire win over Kent State
Sophomore forward Tahjai Teague and junior center Trey Moses are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the paint.
The duo shot a combined 17-22 from the field in Ball State men’s basketball’s wire-to-wire domination of Mid-American Conference foe Kent State (12-13, 6-6 MAC). With the help of Teague and Moses, Ball State (16-9, 7-5 MAC) poured it on in the paint, racking up a 50-30 advantage inside en route to an 87-68 victory.
Head coach James Whitford said that kind of efficiency from a pair of players was new to him.
“I haven’t coached many teams that get 50 points in the paint, for starters,” Whitford said. “That’s an incredible number. And then, when you say Trey and Tahjai went 17-22 from the floor, I mean, wow. That’s hard to do.”
Moses shot an incredible 9-10 from the floor, tying his career-high with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes.
From the start, it looked to be a dominating night for the efficient duo. The two combined for 11 of the team’s first 16 points and never got out of their rhythm.
“We tweaked the offense a little bit to try to get it inside to our threes, fours and fives, and I felt like we did a really good job,” Moses said. “He [Teague] had 20, I had 22, Sean [Sellers] had 15, and we all had a lot of assists too, and that’s kind of the new system.”
The trio racked up the dimes; 12 of the team’s 19 assists came from those three players, and Moses dished out five of them, one shy of tying his career-high.
Although Teague was all over the stat sheet, finishing with 20 points, a career-high 14 boards and four assists, he also helped the team with constant hustle, and that's something that doesn’t show up on the box score.
“I thought a huge difference in the game tonight was Tahjai’s motor,” Whitford said. “That’s the hardest I’ve seen Tahjai play in a long time. Seven offensive rebounds; that’s an incredible number and a big difference in the game.”
Teague echoed many of those same sentiments.
“Coach talked to me about my motor,” Teague said. “I know we got outrebounded [last time against Kent State], and I take that kind of personally since we’re the biggest lineup we have, so I was just trying to focus on getting rebounds. And credit to Trey. He’s the best big man passer in the league. He’s finding me on the cuts, and it’s just my job to deliver, so that’s what I tried to do.”
Two other Cardinals finished the game in double figures. Junior guard Tayler Persons rebounded from a scoreless first half by dropping 13 points in the final 20 minutes to go along with five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Senior guard Sean Sellers added 15 points on 6-11 from the floor in his team-high 33 minutes.
Sellers was his usual self on the defensive side of the ball, making every possession a grind for Kent State.
“I thought [the defensive effort] was great,” Sellers said. “That’s something coach has harped on, and we’ve probably, honestly answered the bell on the defensive end the last three or four games.
“Early on in my career I didn’t understand how important [energy] was, but now I’ve decided to be that guy. It’s something you can do no matter what, whether you’re making shots or missing shots.”
Overall, Ball State shot a torrid 56 percent from the floor, its second-best shooting performance this season behind a 61 percent performance at Indiana State in November.
Teague’s inspired performance on the glass led to the rest of the team getting in on the action. Collectively, Ball State finished with a +13 rebounding margin, winning the battle on the glass 39-26.
Danny Pippen led Kent State with 17 points on 6-12 shooting. As a team, Ball State held Kent State to just 41 percent shooting on the night, living up to its billing as the second-best defensive team in the MAC in terms of opponent's field goal percentage. The Cardinals entered the night allowing its opponents to shoot just 42 percent. The strong rebounding effort by Ball State caused 7-foot center Adonis De La Rosa to collect only one board for Kent State.
Redshirt sophomore Josh Thompson continues to play some important minutes for the Cardinals. He logged a career-high 20 minutes and knocked down back-to-back threes in the first half, which caused both the fans in Worthen Arena and his teammates to erupt.
Although there are some growing pains as a young player, Thompson’s teammates are guiding him in the right direction. In one instance, Thompson went under a Kent State screen, giving one of the team's shooters an open 3-pointer, so Tayler Persons reminded him to go over the screen next time. Thompson listened to the experienced Persons and started going over the top of the screens, shutting down the perimeter offense of Kent State.
One small example that shows the cohesiveness of a team that looks to be hitting its stride at the right time.
Ball State will visit Akron in its next game for a rematch of an epic double overtime matchup between the two teams earlier in the season.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13.