Brachen is back.
It had been 69 days since Brachen Hazen last stepped on the court for Ball State. Saturday, on day 70, the redshirt sophomore forward made his return and helped the Cardinals to a 79-59 win over Western Michigan.
“To be honest, my head was still spinning,” Hazen said. “I mean that’s just the way it’s going to go when you sit out for so long.”
Hazen was nursing a back injury during his 15-game absence. He became known as the comedic relief of the team, constantly cracking jokes and cheering on his teammates in the most bizarre fashion.
Hazen said Saturday, while “exhilarating,” was also a day he’d been waiting on for a while.
“The first three or four games, you’re fine. You want to cheer on your team as much as possible,” Hazen said. “By the end of it, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this sucks. I just want to get back in.’”
Head coach James Whitford said Hazen provided a “great lift,” and the numbers don’t lie. In his 18 minutes of playing time, the Cardinals outscored the Broncos by 22 points.
Junior forward Kyle Mallers agreed that Hazen gives everyone else on the team a spark when he’s on the floor.
“We all like playing with Brachen, and he gives us some energy,” Mallers said. “I was getting excited for him that he was playing well and definitely fed off that. It’s fun having him back out there.”
Hazen ended the game with 11 points — one of four Cardinals in double figures. After a team manager predicted he would score four points, Hazen said he felt confident in his shot. He also admitted he may have been a little too confident at times as he airballed one 3-pointer and banked in another.
Western Michigan called a timeout after Hazen’s three that fell off the glass. All Hazen could do was smile as his teammates started taking jabs at him.
“It was embarrassing, but at the same time, that’s going to go positive toward my shooting percentage,” Hazen said. “I was OK with it. A three’s a three.”
Whitford also said Hazen’s return was “much needed.” This can be seen from a depth standpoint.
In every game without Hazen this season, the Cardinals’ starting big men, senior center Trey Moses and redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague, have been forced into more playing time, sometimes upwards of 35 minutes.
Sophomore forward Zach Gunn also saw an increased role, mostly as a 3-point threat, shooting 36 percent from downtown. He exited late in the game Feb. 2 against Kent State with an ankle injury. Hazen stepped right into that role two games later, draining 3 of 6 from behind the arc.
“It’s real important. We need the depth, and we need them all back,” Whitford said. “[Hazen] gives us depth, and he lets us play those guys less, which keeps them fresher and makes them better.”
Whitford said he hopes to have his whole team back to full strength by its Feb. 23 matchup with Central Michigan.