In its past three games, Ball State Men's Basketball has gotten off to a slower start. Whether it's scoring or shooting, at least one facet of the game has taken a while to get going.
However, to head coach James Whitford, the effort from his players and game results are just fine. Despite shooting 7 percent from 3-point range in the first half, Ball State (3-1, 0-0 MAC) rallied behind two veterans and a second-half surge to down Indiana State (0-3, 0-0 MVC), 69-55, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
"I thought we played the right way in that first half," Whitford said. "I felt like we had good chances in the first half, and when I talked with the players, they felt like they got good shots up but just didn't go for some reason. The differences are extreme, but I thought we played two really good halves."
While 1-of-10 shooting haunted the Cardinals in the first half, the team rallied behind redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague, who put down 12 points in the first half and picked up seven boards. His efforts in the first 20 minutes guided the Cardinals to a narrow 27-26 lead at halftime.
"My teammates make it really easy for me to pass me the ball under the basket," Teague said. "From there, it's just my job to deliver."
As Teague stood out for the Cardinals as an offensive weapon, the Sycamores began to key into his presence on the court, racking his foul count up to four. However, as a player who has played in foul trouble for the majority of his career, that didn't stop him from picking up 10 more points and two more rebounds to finish with a double-double.
"It's just another day for me playing in foul trouble," Teague said. "I have these guys behind me, so when I'm going out and I'm being pressed up on that, our bench is deep."
Redshirt senior guard K.J. Walton followed Teague's performance as well, picking up 16 points and falling one rebound shy of a double-double with nine. Walton also shot a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.
Going along with Teague and Walton's performances, Ball State dominated Indiana State on the glass, outrebounding the Sycamores, 41-28. This is the second straight game in which the Cardinals outrebounded the opposition, as they soundly beat UIC on the boards Wednesday, 45-39.
"We practice that stuff every day, and we go hard at it," Walton said. "It's easy when it translates into the game."
The rebounding game was something that stood as a question mark for the team heading into this season. Whitford said that has been something that has slowly improved for the team as the season has moved forward.
"If you were to identify things we saw as an issue early on, that would've been one of them," Whitford said. "That was an issue in the Evansville game for us, but that was the big story tonight, especially in the first half. Knock on wood, we've done a lot better there on the glass."
Other notables of the night included junior guard Ishmael El-Amin, who was the third Cardinal to break into double digits with 11 points and shot a team-high 3-of-9 from deep. Senior forward Kyle Mallers also had nine points and shot 2-of-5 from the field — all of them from deep.
While the Cardinals did pull out a 14-point win on the night in the team's 134th meeting with the Sycamores, Whitford said Indiana State is a team that consistently challenges them. The Sycamores saw a massive performance from their bench, outscoring Ball State, 24-9.
"They challenge us because they are good," Whitford said. "They have a good team this year and have good players. I would look at this from our end, and I thought we played very well. I thought they caught us on one of our good nights, and this has been a very, very good team win for us."