Composed, complete and different.
Those were a few key words head coach James Whitford used to describe his squad after Ball State Men's Basketball's (2-1, 0-0 MAC) 67-48 win over UIC (1-2, 0-0 Horizon). The 19-point win saw the Cardinals break three players into double figures along with setting a few career-high performances.
"I thought we played a great game, and I told my team I was really proud of them," Whitford said in a radio interview after the game. "We were a true team for 40 minutes. We made mistakes. They were chasing us off the line early, and it took us a little bit of time to adjust, but we played a really good game from start to finish."
The Cardinals' starting five in particular combined for 52 of the team's 67 points on the night. Redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague led the charge for the second straight game, downing 18 points and recording nine rebounds.
"Tahj played a complete game tonight," Whitford said. "There were a few moments where we were up 20 and he tried to reach and go up 30, but outside that, I thought he played a really good game. When we struggled to score, he carried us."
Following Teague, junior guard Ishmael El-Amin set a career high in assists with six and fell one point short of his personal best in points last season when he racked up 14 a season ago. Redshirt senior guard K.J. Walton matched Teague in rebounding with nine, complemented by 12 points.
However, it did take a while for both teams to get their offenses going. Just over the halfway point in the first half, both teams had combined for only 22 points and were shooting under 30 percent from the field. By halftime, Ball State finally began to get things to click and held a 28-19 lead.
In the second half, Ball State came out hot on an 11-6 run led El-Amin's second made shot from deep on the night. El-Amin finished the night 2-for-6 from 3-point range. The Cardinals also saw steady 3-point production from freshman guard Luke Bumbalough, who also shot 2-for-6 on the night. Whitford said not only did Bumbalough have a strong night on offense, but on defense as well, shutting down one of UIC's offensive threats.
"One of the guys that guarded [Godwin Boahen] more than you realize is Luke," Whitford said. "When Luke got him, they were calling his number every time. He really held his ground and proved himself as a defender."
Bumbalough and his team limited the Flames guard to only six points on the night, shooting 1-for-16 from the field. While UIC did break two players into double figures in Deon Ejim (12) and Brian Taylor (10), Ball State limited them to 31 percent shooting from the field, making 17-of-54 shots.
With a little over five minutes left in the game, Ball State jumped out to a lead as large as 23 points and cruised from there to its second win of the season. Along with points, the team also put up high numbers in assists. El-Amin, Teague and redshirt senior guard Josh Thompson all had three or more assists. Thompson set a career high with five in the finish.
Ball State wraps up its stint on the road Sunday in a neutral-sited game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against Indiana State. The Sycamores are looking for their first win of the season after falling to Dayton and No. 4 Louisville.
"No matter what happened, this was a good win because we played the right way for 40 minutes," Whitford said. "We'll take it, have our way with it, head home and get ready for Indiana State."