Senior forward, Kyle Mallers (14), grabs a rebound during the second half against the defense on Nov. 5, 2019, at John E. Worthen Arena. Mallers ended the game with seven total rebounds for the Cardinals win 87-43. Omari Smith, DN
Cardinals find spark in midst of free-throw struggles, close loss
This was Ball State’s first-half 3-point percentage against Northern Kentucky. While the Cardinals were still up, 27-26, they were looking for a spark. They needed someone to come in and put the ball through the hoop from beyond the arc.
Senior forward Kyle Mallers was the booster they required. He propelled the Cardinals to their biggest lead of nine with 14:54 left to play in the game. He scored all of his 17 points in the second half, making all four of the Cardinals' threes.
“Northern Kentucky switched up their defense a little bit,” Mallers said. “They weren’t closing out to shooters as far out in the second half, and I got some open looks and I knocked them down.”
Head coach James Whitford emphasized making shots in the paint early in games to develop rhythm and confidence to take and ultimately make the three.
“We have tried to address going inside earlier,” Whitford said. “We want to play inside-out. I thought a couple of games early we were shooting, and I will have to watch the film, but I did not feel like we shot on point.”
Mallers was the exception. A little over three minutes into the second half, he established himself into the offense with a layup, assisted by redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague.
A minute later, Mallers ran to the 3-point line and drilled the shot. The Cardinals’ next possession, he hit his second. With just under 11 minutes left in the game, Ball State was down, 40-39, and Mallers ran to the wing. He caught a pass from redshirt freshman guard Jarron Coleman and fired it toward the basket, finding nothing but the net and sending the crowd into an eruption.
It wasn’t just his 3-point shooting which caught the eyes of Whitford. It was his defense which didn’t go unnoticed. With the way Northern Kentucky was using its rotations, it required Mallers to have a larger role on defense.
“He hit some threes and had some good looks,” Whitford said. “He also had a really big role defensively today. Kyle and Tahjai had a very big role defensively tonight, and they were a big part of the reason why we held them to 37 percent, but Kyle helped us on both ends of the floor.”
While the Cardinals can walk out of this game with these positives, it was not enough to beat Northern Kentucky. Their Achilles' heel Wednesday night was from the free-throw line, as they shot 34 percent, going 9-for-26.
"I tried not to make a big deal of it because we chart them all in practice, and we're shooting 85 percent as a team," Whitford said. "I haven't tried to make it a mental thing, but at this stage of the game, we need to address it.”
If the Cardinals can translate how they shoot from the line in practice to the games, they will be in much better shape to win these games.
“When we went to Evansville, we shot 6-for-15, and tonight we went 9-for-26,” Whitford said. “If we make free throws in both those games, we could be sitting here at 5-0."