Effort and toughness.
That is how head coach James Whitford described senior forward Kyle Mallers and the Cardinal defense in Ball State Men’s Basketball’s (8-6, 1-0 MAC) 61-57 victory over Toledo (8-6, 0-1 MAC) on Friday.
Mallers, who almost did not play in this game, ended the game with 15 points on 5 of 10 shooting, and made three shots from beyond the arc. Another guy Whitford had high praise for on the defensive end was redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague.
While Teague only ended the game with five points, it was the defensive effort that had a positive impact for Ball State. He had two blocks and two steals in the game and brought a presence in the paint.
“He didn’t have his best offensive game but he did not let it impact him on the defensive end,” Whitford said. “He would come into the huddle and kept saying, ‘To heck with my offense, we’re winning with our defense,’ and that is incredible growth.”
Teague treated this as if it was a rivalry game and to him, that means winning any way you can, even if that means sacrificing points.
"It's just heart down there and you just have to have a will to say, 'you're not scoring,'" Teague said. "For me, it's a rivalry game. You have to just lock in on the moments. I didn't really play good on offense; I didn't really care. I just wanted to win, so I just gave it my all on defense."
Whitford said he was proud of the fact, the Cardinals defense was good to the point of making Toledo switch up their offense out of the normal routine. Instead of going to the normal pick and roll or pop, they were trying to bruise down in the paint.
“They stopped running their pick and roll stuff in the second half,” Whitford said. That is where they have been for 13 games. Pick and roll and pick and pop. In the second half they tried to pound it inside and tried going into the post. They had to change their offense because we did such a good job.”
Offensively, it was junior guard Ishmael El-Amin who stepped up as he had a game-high, 17 points on an efficient 7 of 12 shooting and an even more efficient 3 of 4 from deep. He even grabbed a career-high, nine rebounds.
Whitford praises El-Amin’s decision making for his success on the court for the reason that he is playing so efficient right now.
“He is an elite decision-maker,” Whitford said. You know that old expression of the game slowing down for you. The game has slowed down. He is just making good decisions around the clock.”
The Cardinals have struggled from the line this year and things were different in this game as they made 8 of their 9 attempts at the charity stripe.
Freshman guard Luke Bumbalough hit two important free throws to help decide the game and scored 10 points on the night as well.
The Cardinals play last year’s Mid-American Conference champions, Buffalo on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.