Like many teams across the country, Ball State Men’s Basketball (6-5, 4-2 MAC) has experienced its share of adversity this season, dealing with a number of injuries and absences since beginning in November. After suffering an injury Jan. 12 vs. Bowling Green, the Cardinals were without redshirt senior forward Brachen Hazen Saturday afternoon vs. the Huskies, who has appeared in all 10 games this season.
However, just like they have routinely for weeks, the Cardinals didn’t let that get in their way against Northern Illinois (2-10, 1-6 MAC). Ball State used depth to its advantage in a 78-58 victory at Worthen Arena, completing a season sweep of the Huskies.
“This is a ‘next man up’ type of year,” head coach James Whitford said. “We could have some guys that don’t play for a few games and then all of a sudden, they’re on a roll of 20 to 25 minutes for a certain game. It’s that type of year, so we need all hands on deck.”
The Cardinals advanced to No. 3 in the Mid-American Conference with the win. While Whitford said he is pleased with his team’s determination lately, he knows the Cardinals remain a long way from reaching their absolute potential.
“We’ve had three games in a row where defensively, we’ve been on point,” Whitford said. “Two of the three, we held our own in the glass. I like our team, and I feel like we’re in a good place and yet, three weeks from now, we could be a lot better than where we were today.”
With Hazen out, sophomore center Ben Hendriks made his first-ever start with the Cardinals, scoring seven points and adding four rebounds in 20 minutes of action. While he didn’t start, redshirt junior center Blake Huggins recorded 10 points — eight of which came from the charity stripe — notching double-digits for just the second time in his career. Collectively, Ball State shot 18-for-24 on free-throw attempts.
“Last game, it was Kani [Acree] that really gave us great minutes off the bench, and I thought tonight, it was Blake,” Whitford said. “He just really provided a physicality for us, [stayed] to himself, made free throws and he did a great job.”
Redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas echoed off his coach’s sentiments. Thomas recorded a career-high 20 points against Northern Illinois and shot 4-for-4 on 3-pointers. He now has notched double-digits in two of his last three games, with both of them at Worthen.
While Ball State never trailed the entire game, Thomas credits his team’s performance from the charity stripe as a major confidence booster in the second half. The Huskies carved into the Cardinals’ lead by as many as nine points with just under eight minutes in the game before Ball State went on a 17-2 run to help secure the lead and win.
“Once we got up big, we started knocking down our free throws and Blake was a big help on that,” Thomas said. “He took his time, he knocked them down and it just calms the team when those guys make some runs.”
Pleased with his efforts, Thomas said, he credits his team’s competitive attitude for helping him have performances like he did on Saturday.
“We just come out and try to play as hard as we can,” Thomas said. “We try to come out and be ready to go — a harder team from the jump.”
Despite Hazen’s absence, which Whitford said is day-to-day, Ball State welcomed back redshirt sophomore guard Jarron Coleman to the lineup in Saturday’s win. In his season debut, Coleman recorded four rebounds and two points in 12 minutes of action. Missing nearly two months of action due to a foot injury, Whitford said Coleman is under a minute limit for now, but he expects him to make greater contributions as the season progresses.
“[Coleman] is going to take a little while to get back in rhythm,” Whitford said, “and we’re going to take a little while to find our chemistry on offense with him in there because he’s such an important player for us. But make no mistake, he’s a really good player, so he’s going to make us a lot better.”
Up next for the Cardinals is a two-game road trip, beginning with a tilt against Miami (Ohio) Tuesday, Jan. 19.