The Cardinals play their next home game Friday, Feb. 9 against Kent State. Tip-off is at 9 p.m.
Beating his chest, Tayler Persons walked off the floor, looked into the Worthen Arena crowd and on his way to the Ball State bench had one thing to say:
“This is my house.”
It's hard to argue with him on that fact, either. Moments before his exit, the junior point guard hit his third game-winning 3-pointer of the season to push Ball State past Bowling Green 59-56. While it wasn't the original shot the Cardinals wanted in a tie game, it went in, so head coach James Whitford isn't complaining.
"My intention on that pick-and-roll is to put Tayler in a position to go down hill and get to the rim," Whitford said. "He keeps shooting 3's. When you're down three, that makes sense. When you're tied, you know, you're supposed to get in there and get fouled or shoot a layup. It's hard for me to get mad because they keep going in."
Thirty seconds prior to what would become the game-winning shot, Persons had a shot inside the paint and it rimmed out, like most of the Cardinals shots on the night. As a team, Ball State shot a deceiving 41.5 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range.
Through most of the night, Whitford says the one thing that was missing was intensity. For most of the game, Ball State (15-9, 6-5 MAC) was dull, staying in the game but not making too much progress on Bowling Green (14-10, 5-6 MAC) who led for a majority of the contest. After a missed travel call and blocking foul called on sophomore Kyle Mallers at the other end, that energy changed a bit.
With six-and-a-half minutes to go, the Cardinals fed off of the booing fans, forcing the Falcons into double-teams and sloppy turnovers.
"We tried to refocus," Persons said. "I was getting a little crazy on the bench and Trey [Moses] kind of calmed me down. The message Trey was trying to give us was to stay focused and worry about this next play and the rest of the game."
Persons finished the game with a game-high 15 points, after scoring just two in the first, on his 6-14 shooting nights which including 3-6 from 3-point range. Moses had 12 points and sophomore Tahjai Teague, who went scoreless against Eastern Michigan, finished with 11.
After a double-digit loss on Saturday, Ball State came out flat, giving up 24 rebounds, including five offensive boards to 6-foot-9 inch Derek Koch, who finished with a career-high seven before he fouled out with 4:30 left in the game. In the second half, Moses found himself in several battles with not only the freshman Koch, but with 6-foot-7 inch Jeffery Uju as well.
"I feel like that was their mentality the whole game," Moses said. "You know, starting a freshman center, you just try to get in my head pretty much the whole time. It's not like he was talking, but they were pretty physical the whole time."
The victory keeps Ball State above the .500 mark in the conference and secures yet another win at Worthen Arena for the team that is now 11-1 at home.
This game was, however, another example of a two-half Ball State team that chooses one half to play better in. Building consistency is something Whitford said the Cardinals need to get better on moving forward.
"We started out flat tonight, that's something we have to become more consistent with our intensity level," Whitford said. "When we started this game flat after the last game, I was deeply disappointed. Now, I feel like in the end we played as hard we've played all year with the enthusiasm, we looked like a team that was trying to win."
Ball State returns at 9 p.m. on Friday at home to play Kent State (12-12, 6-5 MAC) in another important conference game.