Throughout the first four games of the season Ball State Men’s Basketball (3-2, 1-0 MAC) has been led by either redshirt fifth-year guard K.J. Walton or senior guard Ishmael El-Amin.
In the Cardinals' 82-66 win against Illinois State (2-3, 0-0 Missouri Valley), that was not the case. Head coach James Whitford said this was the most all-around performance from Ball State this season.
“I thought our guys played really well,” Whitford said. “Top to bottom I thought this was our best play this year. I thought we executed well on the offensive end. I think if we made a couple more shots, we could have scored 90 plus.”
El-Amin led the Cardinals in scoring with 20 points and went 4-8 from three. After shooting 7-20 in Ball State’s last game against Northern Illinois, he said nothing changed as far as his approach.
“I was able to see my shot go in,” El-Amin said. “I don’t think we did anything different. We emphasize as players that throwing the first punch and to be that team to come out with that fire.”
El-Amin scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half and hit all four of his threes in the half as well. He believed that while he was the spark for this game and helped get the team going, anyone can step up at any given time.
“I was able to be that spark for us tonight, but other nights, other guys have been that spark for us,” El-Amin said. “Fortunately, I was able to do that for us tonight, but it isn’t something other guys aren’t capable of doing.”
Redshirt senior forward Brachen Hazen had one of the most productive games of his career with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Not only did Hazen step up for the Cardinals, redshirt sophomore forward Kani Acree had an efficient eight points and went 3-5 from the field.
Hazen said the production came from ‘taking what the defense gives them.’ He also gave his teammates credit for finding him down low. He believes the opposing defense was so focused on Walton in dribble penetration which left him open.
“They were focused on Ish (El-Amin) and K.J. (Walton),” Hazen said. “With K.J. going downhill and my guy being able to help. I am sitting there under the basket to get the dump from K.J or they would kick it to Kani (Acree). It is a team effort. It comes down to everyone playing together.”
While Ball State won the game, the Redbirds got to as close as six points at the seven-minute mark. Whitford was proud of how El-Amin calmed the team down late in the game to help them ultimately close out the game.
“I thought where he was really mature was when we had a couple plays go against us and really struggled to make a shot,” Whitford said. “In the huddle, Ish was just really poised. You could hear him telling the players and calming them down.”
Whitford believes the chemistry is getting better for this team being as new as it is. He thinks this was a step in the right direction with Ball State finding its chemistry.
“I thought we had it tonight,” Whitford said. “I thought we had good chemistry tonight. We are still playing a lot of guys, but guys are settling into roles. I thought we did a good job tonight. When Ish came out we held our own. I thought the guys coming in off of the bench gave us a good lift.”
Ball State heads to Indiana State for its next game, Saturday, Dec. 19 for a 1 p.m. tipoff.
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ianh_2.