4 takeaways from Ball State Men’s Basketball’s win over Akron

<p>Redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton and redshirt sophomore forward Brachen Hazen attempt to get the ball during against Akron Feb. 16, 2019, in John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State defeated Akron 57-56. <strong>Scott Fleener, DN</strong></p>

Redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton and redshirt sophomore forward Brachen Hazen attempt to get the ball during against Akron Feb. 16, 2019, in John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State defeated Akron 57-56. Scott Fleener, DN

Ball State (14-11, 5-7 MAC) escaped with a 57-56 win at home against Akron (14-11, 6-6 MAC) Saturday. It came down to a last-second jump shot in the end, an it clanked off the rim to give the Cardinals their third win in a row. Here’s what stood out in the Cardinals’ victory.

Not quite déjà vu

The combined score of both teams Saturday totaled 113, barely topping the Cardinals’ 111 in their first matchup with the Zips last season. That game featured two overtimes, and the 217 total points scored was the most ever in Worthen Arena. In the plethora of scoring, three Cardinals reached at least 22 points, and the Zips’ Jimond Ivey dropped a career-high 48 points in 49 minutes. 

The two teams played again 17 days later, and Ball State was once again victorious, 90-77.

From a scoring perspective, Saturday was different. Five players in total reached double figures. The Zips shot 30.2 percent from the field, and the Cardinals weren’t much better at 34.4 percent. Threes were also hard to come by as both teams shot a combined 7 for 42.

Ball State head coach James Whitford said the difference was on defense. Coming into the game, Akron had allowed only 62.5 points per game, best in the Mid-American Conference and 14th nationally. Whitford also added his team isn’t all that bad on defense either. 

Niner niner

The Cardinals outrebounded the Zips 49-37. However, no players came down with 10 or more. Instead, four Cardinal starters managed to grab nine apiece. Redshirt juniors Tahjai Teague and K.J. Walton and seniors Trey Moses and Tayler Persons each finished one shy of double-digit rebounds.

Of Ball State’s 49 boards — 10 more than their average — 12 were on the offensive end. One of those 12 was a tip-in by Moses to give the Cardinals a one-point lead with seven seconds left in the game.

The players joked about the coincidence after the game. Teague said it felt like nine guys ended with nine rebounds. Persons declared himself the game’s leading rebounder despite the four-way tie with his teammates.

Keeping composure

Teague said if you watched him play through his years before Ball State, you’ll know he likes to play physical. It showed Saturday. Teague picked up his fourth personal foul with just over 12 minutes remaining. He went on to play over seven more minutes down the stretch including the final 4:41.

Teague has now picked up four fouls in the Cardinals’ last two games. He’s recorded at least four in 10 of the team’s 25 games this season and fouled out three times. Whitford said he’d rather keep his best players on the court, regardless of foul trouble, during close games than play it safe and put them on the bench.

Down to the wire

Another game, another outcome determined in the final seconds. That’s seemingly what it’s been during conference play for the Cardinals. Ball State earned a 20-point win over Western Michigan before Saturday’s contest, but that was just the fifth MAC game decided by double digits for the Cardinals this season. The remaining seven were all decided by six points or fewer.

Before this three-game winning streak started, the Cardinals had lost every close game in conference. During it, they’ve been on the winning side of a pair of one-point games.

Whitford said part of this turnaround can be credited to the chips finally falling his team’s way, and another part to his team getting healthy. Redshirt sophomore Brachen Hazen returned to action last Saturday, and he said sophomores Zach Gunn and Ishmael El-Amin aren’t far behind.

Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at zapiatt@bsu.edu or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.


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