Defense is Ball State's Achilles heel in loss to Michigan

<p>Ball State redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton reacts to getting fouled during the Cardinals' game against Miami University Jan. 22, 2019 in John E. Worthen Arena. Walton scored 16 points. <strong>Paige Grider, DN</strong></p>

Ball State redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton reacts to getting fouled during the Cardinals' game against Miami University Jan. 22, 2019 in John E. Worthen Arena. Walton scored 16 points. Paige Grider, DN

Ball State Men’s Basketball (0-2, 0-0 MAC) is now 1-10 all-time against Michigan (3-0, 0-0 Big 10). After an 84-65 loss to the Wolverines, the Cardinals remain winless. 

Despite the loss, head coach James Whitford said these are the kind of games that will make a team better in the long term. 

“Games like this are great for you because it really exposes things you don’t do well,” Whitford said. “If talent level is different, that might not be the case. Our non-conference schedule will for sure get us ready, but we have to make sure we are ready.”

Michigan got out to a strong start early in the game, as they were up 27-13 in the middle of the first half. Whitford attributed the slow start to the team’s defense in the paint. Ball State allowed Michigan to score 42 points in the paint for the game.

“They were torching us in the box early,” Whitford said. “They were getting the ball inside at the rim. I thought that was a stretch where our defense got more solid. It coincided with us getting easy baskets in transition. I thought the difference was that our defense became more sound.”

Ball State ended the half with a 19-6 run and went into the half down just seven points, with a score of 40-33. The Cardinals were led by sixth-year senior guard K.J. Walton who ended the night with 20 points. This is his second straight game with 20 or more points. 

Michigan came out of the second half and played well offensively, as they shot 57.1 percent. They also went 9-13 from the free-throw line. Walton believes the issue stemmed from fatigue and not playing well on transition defense.

“We need to a better job of blocking out and transition defense,” Walton said.“Some of the sets that they were running and them giving it to their bigs was wearing us out. There wasn’t much we could do with him. We could’ve tried to help, but they have guys who can make plays on the wing. We kind of just tired because of their big guy.”

Whitford believes the loss doesn’t have to do with a lack of effort but a lack of defensive execution. 

“We have to get better,” Whitford said. “I know we are not that good. I’m not trying to be negative because like I have said, I think this is the most talented team we have had since I have been here. I think we have a chance to be really good. A lot of the mistakes you see now, you see in practice. I think that time will come for us over the next four to six weeks.”

Ball State takes on the University of Illinois at Chicago Saturday, Dec. 5. at 7 p.m. 

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

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