Ball State Basketball is back, and there were a few positives to take away from the Cardinals’ 86-69 win over Indiana State to open the season Tuesday.
Defense looked good
Head coach James Whitford has said defense will be the identity of this Ball State team, and it showed Tuesday. The Cardinals held the Sycamores to 38.8 percent shooting on the night, and Indiana State’s top two scorers only made 12 of a combined 37 shot attempts. Ball State forced the Sycamores to exhaust the shot clock multiple times, especially in the first half. The Cardinals also came away with seven steals and five blocks.
Redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague scored 20 points in the Cardinals’ exhibition game against UIndy Friday, and he carried that momentum into the season-opener. Teague scored the first four points of the game Tuesday and had two steals that led to fast-break dunks within the first 12 minutes. While he scored a team-high 21 points, Teague’s defense was praised as “one of the best individual defensive performances I’ve seen in a long time” by Whitford. Teague went 10 for 14 from the field including a 3-pointer.
Hazen up to the challenge
The Cardinals’ Third Team All-MAC senior center Trey Moses began the season on the bench and was limited to 11 minutes of playing time while nursing a right knee injury. In his reduced presence, redshirt sophomore forward Brachen Hazen stepped up. Tuesday was Hazen’s first appearance in a Ball State uniform. In his debut, he made all six of his field goal attempts to finish the game with 15 points. Hazen also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Scoring by committee
Whitford said prior to the season that this year’s Cardinal squad has a lot of depth. He said fans should expect multiple players in double-figures each game, but not always the same ones. Tuesday night’s contest with Indiana State was a perfect example. Ball State had four players score 15 or more points, but junior forward Kyle Mallers wasn’t one of them. Mallers led the Cardinals with 25 points in their exhibition game Friday, but he was held to just four points without making a shot. If other players can consistently step up to take some pressure off regular scorers like Teague and redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons, Ball State could be a difficult team to match up with.
The one area the Cardinals need to improve on is starting strong. They committed eight turnovers and had a 38.7 shooting percentage in the first half in which they scored 32 points. The Cardinals came out strong in the second half, going on a 12-2 scoring run to quickly increase their lead. The team shot 20 percent better and scored 22 more points in the second half. Ball State will want to have a more consistent game all throughout Saturday when it travels to West Lafayette to play No. 24 Purdue. The following Thursday the Cardinals will take on No. 15 Virginia Tech.