Ball State Men’s Basketball was on a four-game losing streak. They had Toledo (16-5, 11-2 MAC) coming into town as the best team in the Mid-American Conference.
The score was 19-6 in favor of the Rockets halfway through the first half and the Cardinals (7-9, 5-6 MAC) needed something to go their way. Ball State ended up winning the game 81-67.
A three from redshirt sophomore guard Jarron Coleman forced the Cardinals engine to start, and there was no looking back for the rest of the game. Coleman followed his three-pointer with a putback dunk. This ignited a 26-13 run, and Ball State went into the half tied at 34 with Toledo.
Coleman attributed the slow start to the lack of communication, and head coach James Whitford agreed, saying that the transition defense needed to improve.
“Our transition defense in the first four minutes was abysmal,” Whitford said. “I’ll credit the team because they were talking about it with each other. That is always impactful and obviously, we responded.”
This was Coleman’s sixth game back from injury, and he put up a season-high 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists. He also shot an efficient 6-for-12 from the field on 3-for-7 from deep. Whitford said he believes having Coleman is helping the Cardinals get where they need to be.
“We are getting there,” Whitford said. “[Jarron Coleman] is rounding into form. We brought him back as quick as we could so he could get through those bumps. It was ugly at first, but the purpose of that was to try and get through it quickly.”
Both Coleman and Whitford felt like the communication improved as the game progressed, and Coleman said he thought his veteran presence helped that get better.
“I feel like I bring another veteran voice to the team,” Coleman said. “I know certain things coach wants to do within the system that was echoed on the court. I feel like I do a good job of helping my teammates get better.”
Not only was Coleman the spark for the Cardinals late in the first half, but sophomore guard Luke Bumbalough had a sequence that sparked a Ball State come back. He stole the ball, faked out the Rockets defense and got a layup in transition. In the next play, he dribbled down the court to hit a three to bring the Cardinals within six points.
Not only did Bumbalough knock down shots, but Whitford was impressed with how he responded defensively.
“I thought he responded,” Whitford said. “He was in practice trying to address it, and he took the challenge and did a great job. Luke [Bumbalough] deserves a lot of credit and learned the lessons in the Buffalo game and was able to apply it today.”
Ball State had six players score in double-figures were still missing three players. Along with Coleman’s 19 points and Bumbalough’s 14, redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas scored 13 followed by redshirt senior Brachen Hazen’s 12. Coleman discussed how the mindset is for the next man to step up.
“We got more people on our team going today,” Coleman said. “We had a lot of guys step up today when we needed them to. We are still down three players, but it is next man up, and everybody played great today as a team.”
In the second half, Ball State allowed Toledo to just 20 percent shooting from beyond the arc and 28.9 percent from the field. The defense was something Whitford wanted the Cardinals to improve on at the beginning of the season, and Coleman has seen it.
“We have been working on our defense and our fundamentals a lot and getting back to our ways,” Coleman said. “We pride ourselves on defense. We were first in the conference last year. We have to be one of the best defenses every night. We have to bring the intensity.”
Ball State travels to Central Michigan Tuesday, Feb. 9 for a 7 p.m. game.