Ball State junior forward Tahjai Teague dunks the ball during the Cardinals' exhibition game against University of Indianapolis Nov. 2, 2018, in John E. Worthen Arena. Teague scored 20 points. Paige Grider, DN
Ball State Men’s Basketball eager to get back on court after eight month hiatus
3,000 strong filled the seats at Worthen Arena last Friday as Ball State Men’s Basketball took the court for its first time this season against UIndy. After a tied first quarter, the Cardinals took off to defeat the Greyhounds, 92-76.
The matchup not only gave the Cardinals some confidence before the start of the regular season, but showed that a hungry team, with its full artillery not even intact yet, was ready to hit the ground running.
“These first games were going to get comfortable starting under the lights, getting comfortable in rotations and getting the jitters out,” head coach James Whitford said. “That’s why we start off with exhibition play as to a second scrimmage as it gives you kind of a trail run. After that, the first real game is right around the corner.”
On and off the court, the team has prepared for the upcoming season mentally and physically. Sitting out practice with an injury and being limited to what he is able to do on the court, senior redshirt center Trey Moses has been mentally focused on what he needs to do this season.
“We meet with a sports psychologist once a month and the big thing he tells me with being injured is staying locked in with mental reps and imagine yourself making plays,” Moses said. “My guys are making me a clip of all my past plays and making sure that I know that I’m a good player no matter how I feel. It’s going to be one of those things where I find my groove.”
Practice throughout the month of October has allowed players to get a feel for each others style and pace that each individual plays at. Junior redshirt guard KJ Walton said he feels senior redshirt Tayler Persons and himself have a special connection on the court.
“Playing with Tayler is great because he knows how to score,” Walton said. “It doesn’t make my job as hard and vice versa. We have a lot of other great guys that help us spread out the floor that help us get to the rim as well.”
Alongside offensive development, the team has take a lot of pride in the fast establishment of a defensive core. With key players such a Moses, who was a 2018 All MAC Third team selection, the team excited to see where they will go.
“We are a work in progress,” Whitford said. “I’m just as curious as anyone else to see how the defense will develop. We’re like most teams where were doing stuff well, but we have a long way to go.”
Similar to last season, the Cardinals will open up their season with a challenging non-conference schedule. The first two weeks see the Cardinals taking on No. 24 Purdue, No. 15 Virginia Tech, Indiana State and possibly Alabama. The Cardinals squeezed out a 93-85 win over the Sycamores last season setting up an exciting regular season opener. Later, the Cardinals will face a Boilermaker squad who peaked as high as No. 3 in the AP Top 25 poll last season. The Cardinals last faced the Boilermakers in 2012 falling, 66-56.
“Playing good competition makes you better,” Whitford said. “Every opportunity you’re trying to be the best you can no matter who you’re playing. I do think there is something to be said in challenging games make you better. It’s certainly a benefit, but whoever we are playing, we have to be at our best.”
With the season just getting started, there are underlying feelings towards one conference opponent. Buffalo. The Bulls ran through the MAC last season going 15-3 in conference play, winning the conference championship and making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament upsetting four seeded Arizona. After the UIndy game, junior redshirt forward Tahjai Teague said he personally compares the opposition to Buffalo.
“In that game we told our guys that Buffalo is the team to beat, so we gotta compare everyone to them,” Teague said. “If a dude get open, on Buffalo that’s a three made. You have to compare them to the best team in our conference schedule.”
With the conference season starting up two months from now, and their matchup with Buffalo almost three months away, the Cardinals open up their non-conference slate against Indiana State on Friday and No. 24 Purdue on Saturday. The Cardinals face the Sycamores at 7 p.m. at Worthen Arena and will travel to West Lafayette to take on the Boilermakers at 8 p.m.