Freshman guard Luke Bumbalough into the starting lineup, and redshirt freshman guard Jarron Coleman to the bench. This decision wasn’t because of performance or skill. It was based on benefiting both players and their styles of play.

Not only did head coach James Whitford say it was a valuable experience for Bumbalough, but it is something that can potentially help the offense find more of a rhythm down the road. While it didn’t necessarily show in Ball State Men’s Basketball’s 70-58 loss to Loyola Chicago, Whitford said he saw some positives from swapping the two players.

“Jarron needs the ball in his hands,” Whitford said. “Luke can play with or without the ball. It also puts Jarron in more pick-and-rolls, which is the right thing for him, and it just takes pressure off of Luke. He doesn’t have to break press, he doesn’t have to get picked up full and he doesn’t have to enter the offense.”

With redshirt senior guard K.J. Walton out due to an ankle injury, the bench has struggled to score. It scored just six points in the loss to Loyola and six in the last game against Western Illinois. For Whitford, it's just about experimenting with the rotations and finding the right one.  

Starting Bumbalough was part of that experimentation of finding the right guys to play with each other, and Whitford said he needs the bench to play consistently. 

“We are playing a lot of different guys,” Whitford said. “Loyola just got Keith Clemons back, and he hadn’t played for them until tonight. Without him, you see their minutes all over the map, and we are going through that a little bit too. We are just trying to figure out the right rotations and the right lineups, and then what we need is for the bench to be consistent.”

While Bumbalough said starting was a cool experience, he added that it doesn’t matter if the team is not winning, and he realizes the team needs to come out of the gate and play better.

Bumbalough scored seven points and added two 3-pointers to the mix.

Ball State Head Coach James Whitford discuss a play during the game against Loyola University Chicago on Dec. 3,  2019, in John E. Whitford is entering his seventh season with the Cardinals. Jaden Whiteman, DN

“I just wanted to help my team step it up because, obviously, K.J. is down, so I just really wanted to play for them and not let the guys down,” Bumbalough said. “It was a cool opportunity, but we have to come ready to go right away, and I myself have to step up no matter what.”

Ball State was outscored in the first half, 31-18, and won the second half, 40-39. Whitford credited Bumbalough for some of that with his comfort in driving to the basket and forcing the defense to collapse, which in turn leaves shooters like junior guard Ishmael El-Amin open for threes. El-Amin scored a career-high 24 points.

Bumbalough played 28 minutes, and Whitford said he believes being in the game that long will give Bumbalough that valuable experience he needs to take the next step.

“It is the 28 minutes,” Whitford said. “You saw him get comfortable in the second half driving the ball a little bit, and we did a much better job attacking on the bounce in the second half. The 28 minutes is what really helped him. He just needs experience.”

That experience brings comfort. Whitford said finding that comfort level will help him shoot the ball better. This was an area the Cardinals struggled with Tuesday night, as they shot 10 of 28 from deep.

“He will be able to find his comfort level, and he will make threes,” Whitford said. “He has done that at a high level. I thought he had a couple of good drives as the game went on, and he has really progressed defensively. He is a valuable player for us, and we need him to be good.”

Bumbalough’s teammates believe in him to take that next step, and they trust in his ability to shoot the ball and make the team better.

“He is a shooter,” Teague said. “We just need him to shoot the ball when he is open. We all believe in him, and we show him that every day in practice. He brings more shooting to the lineup, and whenever he is open, we tell him we believe in him and to shoot it whenever he has it.” 

Contact Ian Hansen with comments at imhansen@bsu.edu or on Twitter @ianh_2.