Undermanned Cardinals lose second-straight to Buffalo

<p>Redshirt senior guard Brachen Hazen holds the ball Dec. 5, 2020, in Worthen Arena. Hazen had 1 assist against the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames. <strong>Jaden Whiteman, DN</strong></p>

Redshirt senior guard Brachen Hazen holds the ball Dec. 5, 2020, in Worthen Arena. Hazen had 1 assist against the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames. Jaden Whiteman, DN

Many teams have had to deal with COVID-19 this season, and Ball State Men’s Basketball (4-5, 2-2 MAC) is no different.

The Cardinals were without redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas and sophomore guard Jalen Windham due to COVID-19 protocols in Ball State’s 86-69 loss to Buffalo (4-3, 2-1 MAC). These absences added to an already injured team.

“It is the story of where we are,” Whitford said. “We have Jarron [Coleman], Jalen [Windham], Reggie [Jones], Miryne [Thomas], then without Ish [El-Amin] in the second half. It is what it is, and different teams have had to go through it throughout the year. It is a window for us that is really hard.”

The Bulls’ offensive rebounding was ‘the story of the game,’ as Buffalo racked up a total of 25 in the game which they converted into 25 second-chance points. 

“It was a really hard game,” Whitford said. “Credit to Buffalo because their physicality inside overwhelmed us, and their offensive rebounding,"

Buffalo’s rebounding came in large part due to forward Josh Mballa, who came down with 19 rebounds, and 11 of those were on the offensive end of the floor. He was also their leading scorer with 19 points.

Whitford also attributed the Cardinals’ struggles to turnovers. Ball State committed 19 giveaways and while they also forced the Bulls to 15, Buffalo scored 29 points off of takeaways while Ball State only scored three.

“That is who they are,” Whitford said. “They aren’t that great in the half-court. They have their Achilles heels but they can overwhelm you with their ability to go defense-to-offense. We knew that coming into the game, it is harder to stop it than to want to stop it. 

Ball State also lost one of its top scorers, senior guard Ishmael El-Amin in the second half due to what Whitford described as ‘something he ate.’ El-Amin had cramps prior to the game and threw up at halftime.

El-Amin is having a career season, averaging 16 points, 3.5 rebounds and four rebounds a game and Whitford said his loss hurt the offense tremendously. 

“It was very significant,” Whitford said. “He is obviously a really key player for us on the offensive end of the floor. Just because of the climate and the caution, we pulled him in the second half.”  

Ball State was down 33-31 at halftime, but the second half was highlighted by the Bulls offense, as they exploded for 53 points and made nine threes. 

Despite the Cardinals not having a lot of their key players, Whitford is pleased with some of the experience the younger players were able to get. Freshman guard Josh Bryan saw the first minutes of his collegiate career, and redshirt junior started the first game of his career.

Freshman guard Teemu Suokas received a season-high 23 minutes and put up five points, two assists and three rebounds.

“I thought Teamu [Suokas] had a good first half,” Whitford said. “I thought in the second half he got a little too over-aggressive on a few plays. You can see that he has the chance of being a really good player. I thought it was a tale of two halves for him.”

Whitford praised sophomore center Ben Hendriks for his minutes, as he scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds.

“Another guy that doesn’t play a whole lot that I thought did a great job tonight was Ben Hendriks,” Whitford said. “What we saw from him tonight on offense is what we see from him every day in practice. He just needs to learn to be more physical and defend his position a little bit better. I do think he is really talented on offense and did a great job” 

Ball State has another challenge coming up, as they take on Bowling Green (9-2, 5-0 MAC) on Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 7 p.m.

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

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