Eagles big man too much for Ball State Men’s Basketball

<p>Redshirt Senior guard Tayler Persons dribbles the ball up the court Feb. 9, 2019, at John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State defeated Western Michigan 79-59. <strong>Rebecca Slezak,DN</strong></p>

Redshirt Senior guard Tayler Persons dribbles the ball up the court Feb. 9, 2019, at John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State defeated Western Michigan 79-59. Rebecca Slezak,DN

Ball State (15-15, 6-11 MAC) has allowed an opposing player to score 20 points and grab 20 rebounds twice this season. Neither occurred in the Cardinals’ first 28 games. 

Western Michigan’s Seth Dugan recorded an even 20 and 20 Saturday, and James Thompson of Eastern Michigan (15-15, 9-8 MAC) got it done Tuesday with 20 points and 23 boards.

In the Cardinals’ first matchup with the Eagles this season, an 84-82 double-overtime loss, Thompson was also a major factor. He ended the game with 18 points and 19 rebounds. 

With a third matchup possibly looming in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, Ball State head coach James Whitford said they need to find a happy medium when defending Thompson.

“The first game, we fronted him a lot, and he had 11 offensive rebounds in the game because every time the shot went up, our big that was supposed to be blocking him out was on the wrong side of him,” Whitford said. “Tonight, by design, we tried to keep better rebounding position and not always be on top of him or in front of him.”

Thompson was quiet offensively until the five-minute mark in the first half. Before that, he had six points, and Elijah Minnie was the Eagles’ go-to scorer with 10 points and a pair of 3-pointers. 

“Where we really cost ourselves was the eight-minute to the four-minute mark of the first half,” Whitford said. “That’s the one that I’ll look back upon and say that stretch of the game really hurt us. They went on a 12-1 run in that four minutes. Outside of that four minutes, I thought we played 36 minutes of good basketball.”

The Cardinals went into the locker room facing a 36-24 deficit, and Thompson had already recorded a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, all while shooting a perfect 7 of 7 from the field.

Thompson came into Tuesday’s contest 18 rebounds away from claiming Eastern Michigan’s all-time rebound record. It didn’t seem far-fetched after a 19-board performance against the Cardinals in January, and he did it with 16 minutes to spare.

The Cardinals once again struggled to make shots, going 0 for 9 from behind the arc before junior forward Kyle Mallers nailed one just seconds into the second half. They have shot 19 percent from downtown in their last two games.

Ball State trimmed Eastern Michigan’s lead to three twice in the final five minutes, but the Eagles hit multiple key shots and never gave up the advantage.

“The league is good, and it is what it is. It’s the best it’s ever been in the history of the conference,” Whitford said. “Believe me, I want to be on the correct side of the ledger more than we are. We need to make some shots, and we have to play better.”

Redshirts junior forward Tahjai Teague led the Cardinals with 15 points. Redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons and redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton followed with 13 and 10, respectively.

Ball State’s final regular-season game will be Friday at home at 7 p.m. hosting Northern Illinois for senior night.

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


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