After going 3-1 on its four-game road trip, Ball State (8-4, 0-0 MAC) lit it up from the field at home against Howard (6-6, 0-0 MEAC) to claim a 98-71 victory.
The home game was just the fourth for the Cardinals this season, and they have yet to drop a game on their home court. Ball State will have one more contest in Worthen Arena before the start of Mid-American Conference play.
“It felt good to be home and get a chance to play in front of our fans,” head coach James Whitford said. “It’s great to be home, and it’s really great to win right before Christmas because there’s nothing worse than losing that game.”
The Cardinals received an early spark from sophomore guard Ishmael El-Amin. He hit his first two attempts from 3-point range to get the ball rolling. El-Amin found himself in the starting lineup for the first time this season as redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton nursed a knee injury.
El-Amin said he didn’t know he would be starting until after pregame warmups. He added that it felt the same on the court and his mindset didn’t change.
“Roles really don’t matter to me,” El-Amin said. “I go out there and help my team get a win and do the little things I can do. That’s the biggest thing. Believing we’re going to get a W – if we do that, then I’m fine.”
In Walton’s absence, El-Amin did not disappoint. He scored 13 points while shooting a perfect 4 of 4 from the field in the first half, including three from beyond the arc. He ended the night as the team’s third-leading scorer with 15 points.
“Ish is a great player,” redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons said. “He puts more time in than anybody on his shot. He’s in there before practice every day, and it really shows. He’s becoming a dual threat – being able to shoot and drive. I love playing with him.”
Persons was another key contributor for the Cardinals in the first half. After failing to notch a single point in the first half against Valparaiso, Persons bounced back and dropped 12 Thursday. He went on to lead all scorers with 20 points and added four assists.
“I just let the game come to me. If the game makes me score, then I become a scorer,” Persons said. “I just got to lead my team. We got a lot of great scorers around me. When it’s my time, I’ll take it. But when it’s not, I love passing the ball.”
The threes were falling for both teams in the first half. Each put up 15 from downtown. The Cardinals made eight, and the Bison made six.
Ball State went into the half up 52-40 and didn’t let up to start the second. The Cardinals went on an 8-2 run to begin the period, forcing Howard to call a timeout. Redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague led the way during the stretch. He scored his team’s first six points and assisted on the next bucket.
As the clock wound down, the difference in field-goal percentages became more distant. By the end of the contest, Ball State had made 58.6 percent of its shots to Howard’s 36.2 percent. Naturally, the Cardinal lead continued to grow down the stretch. With 12:15 left to play, Ball State led by 30.
“I thought we really played well tonight, especially on offense,” Whitford said. “I thought we really shared the ball… That was the thing that stood out to me is I thought our guys really played the right way.”
Redshirt junior guard Josh Thompson dribbled the ball as the clock hit zero, and the Cardinals walked away with their second win in a row and their seventh in the last eight games.
Five Cardinals scored in double figures on the night. Along with Persons and El-Amin were Teague with 17 and junior forward Kyle Mallers and sophomore forward Zach Gunn each with 12. All nine Cardinals with playing time found the scoring column.
Ball State’s final non-conference game will be Saturday, Dec. 29 hosting Delaware State at 2 p.m.