It was as if a switch flipped on for the Cardinals with five minutes left in the first half. With the RedHawks shooting 83 percent from deep and holding onto a 10-point lead, Ball State was looking for a spark heading into the locker room.
Cue three straight threes from freshman guard Luke Bumbalough. Four more from a supporting cast within the final five minutes set the Cardinals up with a 33-30 lead at halftime. Ball State Men's Basketball's (11-7, 4-1 MAC) 3-pointers helped the team pick up its first win over Miami (Ohio) (8-10, 1-4 MAC) since 2017, 71-62.
"I thought it was a good win for our team, and the bench made a really big difference," head coach James Whitford said. "I thought the defensive intensity that our bench brought became contagious and lifted everyone. If you're going to be a good team, you've got to find different ways to win, and this was a good one for us."
The energy from the end of the first half picked up into the second, as the Cardinals would outscore Miami, 38-32. Despite the RedHawks throwing down more threes in the second half, Ball State would lock down from inside the paint and score seven second-chance points off of five offensive rebounds.
"There were two parts to the adjustment we made," Whitford said. "We made some communication errors, which left them with a few wide-open shots, and they also hit a couple of tough ones. However, we were able to overcome a team that hit 11-of-19 from three, which is hard to do with bad defense, so that was great."
While the Cardinals were outscored from outside the arc, Bumbalough's presence was still felt throughout the entire game. The freshman finished tied for second in points with 13, shooting a team-high 4-for-9 from 3-point range. His onslaught in the late first half sparked a surge not just on offense, but defense as well.
"If you hit three threes in a row, you get a spark, but it was really on the defensive end," Bumbalough said. "Everyone's energy picked up, we were all talking and the bench was loud. The defense turned into our offense, and we got some easy shots."
Alongside Bumbalough, the Cardinals continued to see consistent performances from redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague and junior guard Ishmael El-Amin. Teague finished with a team-leading 14 points along with four rebounds and three blocks. Facing the RedHawks five times in his career, Teague said there's a sense of familiarity in facing Miami. Three RedHawks spent their high school days in Indianapolis, with Josh Brewer playing in the same conference as Teague.
"A few of the guys on their team grew up in Indiana," Teague said. "We grew up playing since AAU and high school, so you basically know them personally on the court. It doesn't look like we're cool in the lines, but once the game is over, we're cool. It just felt like a rival game because we know all of them."
El-Amin finished with 13 points, three rebounds and two assists. The guard left the game after getting hit in the face at the 4:44 mark of the second half. El-Amin returned to the bench with a bandage over his eye. Whitford said there is no update to El-Amin's injury.
Other contributors included senior forward Kyle Mallers, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds, and redshirt junior forward Brachen Hazen, who had a team-leading six rebounds. Whitford also collected is 100th win with Ball State in the finish. In jumping out to 4-1 in MAC play compared to last season's 2-3, Teague said the team has a greater sense of togetherness compared to last season.
"We're more connected this year," Teague said. "I feel like our defense is much better than it was last year, and we're just playing through our defense. We're not letting missed shots get to us. Last season, we tried to play through the offense, and this year, nobody cares who scores the most or who does this. As long as we get the win at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what anyone does."
In the loss, Miami's Nike Sibande finished with a double-double, collecting 16 points and 10 rebounds. Dae Dae Grant followed with 10 points. The RedHawks also saw Dalonte Brown foul out of the game. The RedHawks will face Akron Tuesday.
Ball State has a week off before heading to Central Michigan Jan. 25. The Cardinals don't return back to Worthen Arena until Feb. 1 when they face Ohio.