Graphic by Emily Wright,DN
Strong defense sees Ball State Men's Basketball ground Rockets
Lift off was forced to be rescheduled for the Rockets as a strong defensive performance by Ball State Men's Basketball (10-4, 1-0 MAC) would lead the Cardinals to a dominating conference opening win over Toledo (12-2, 0-1 MAC), 79-64.
"Every game in this league is hard, this is a hard place to play and they're a good team," head coach James Whitford said. "We had a great game tonight and we won it by being elite defensively."
Coming into the game, the Rockets were lead in points by Nate Navigato and Jaelan Sanford with Navigato averaging 13 points per game and Sanford with 17. Navigato would finish with two points and Sanford with 12, having zero points in the first half. The Rockets 6 foot 11 center Luke Knapke would also leave the game on a flagrant foul.
"We had a lot of great individual performances tonight," Whitford said. "Tayler Persons started on Sanford and had a great half on him and I thought that made a big difference. I thought our bigs did a great job taking away Knapke. We put Mallers on Navigato and just told Kyle not to let him shoot threes."
Defense converted into offense in big ways. Redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague had a strong night finishing with 20 points and a team high 12 rebounds. On the defensive side of the ball, Teague pulled down nine defensive rebounds and forced three steals.
"He scored the ball well tonight," Walton said. "He went 3-4 from 3 and obviously that's the icing on the cake, but he's so good defensively and that is because of his length, versatility and knowledge of the game. He is such a smart player and his ability to think the game and understand the game is as good as i've seen in a long time."
Similar to their game against Delaware State, the Cardinals opened up the game going on a 9-0 scoring run highlighted by a deep three from Teague. Rockets would climb back in it, but the Cardinals would continue to hold a substantial lead as the half would end with the Cardinals up, 38-26. Redshirt senior center Trey Moses spent some time on the bench after committing two early fouls. That number would not rise for the rest of the night.
"The difference between this team and ones in the past is that the other ones would've said 'put me in coach i wont foul' and then they would foul," Whitford said. "Were a more mature team and I want to play those guys that are in foul trouble to keep them fresh and play them as much as we can."
The second half saw the Cardinals continue strong play on both sides of the ball till the final buzzer. Big dunks by Walton and Teague would continue to add hype to the Cardinals dominating performance. The Rockets would go on a run to end the game, but two free throws by junior forward Kyle Mallers would seal the deal for Ball State.
In the win, the Cardinals snap the Rockets 10 game winning streak and extend their own to three. In a season where the MAC is at its highest level of competitively in years, Whitford said that it's nice to have one mile down in the long marathon ahead.
"We have one mile down and 17 to go," Whitford said. "I'm glad to be 1-0 after one mile."