Prior to Ball State Men’s Basketball’s (0-1) 82-71 loss to Georgia Southern (1-0), head coach James Whitford was walking with assistant coach Linc Darner around the city of Statesboro, Georgia.
Darner told Whitford that when he was in Florida Southern, there were parallels to the 2021 Cardinals — a young team that will improve over time. Darner talked about how Florida Southern started out with a losing record but eventually ended up in the NCAA Tournament.
“Time is on our side,” Whitford said. “Time is on our side for two reasons; We are young and have a ton of youth and we are playing them because they have earned those spots. Secondly, we are a hardworking and talented group. We will get better as time goes on.”
Ball State led by as many as eight and was winning for most of the first half, but the Eagles began to heat up late in the first half and carried it over into the second half, outscoring the Cardinals, 41-30.
Junior guard Luke Bumbalough led all scorers with 21 points and five 3-pointers. Junior guard Jalen Windham had 12 points and three 3-pointers followed by redshirt senior forward Miryne Thomas’s 11 points. Even with multiple players positively contributing to the Cardinals’ it wasn’t enough to stop Georgia Southern’s fast-paced offense in the second half.
“They got the lead,” Whitford said. “They got it up to seven and we started to press a little bit, and we made a couple. But that isn’t the right way to play in the long haul. There was a lot of time, and it didn’t feel that way. We would gamble for steals, and it will be a lot to learn from.”
Whitford said Ball State started to overcompensate on defense which is something his young team will learn over time.
“We have to set them up for success,” Whitford said. “It is guys like Luke Bumbalough and Miryne Thomas that are the most experienced guys. Luke has to be on of the guys to say, ‘Hey, we are fine.’ A game like this helps us show him. He needs to learn and register it. One of the things he knows is he has to be that guy on the court. He played a great game, but we collectively lost our composure.
Freshman center Payton Sparks led the Cardinals with 12 rebounds. Whitford said he was proud of Sparks’ performance and the way he hustled on the floor.
“I thought the most encouraging thing for Payton [Sparks] was how dominant he was at the rim,” Whitford said. “He was getting rebounds and was the biggest, most physical guy out there. You can tell he has a chance to be a really good player. That is the Payton we see every day in practice.”
Despite losing, Whitford is encouraged with the team he has put together and said he knows it will take time in practice and learning how to handle difficult situations in the game.
“That youth is going to be on our side,” Whitford said. “So as long as we continue to do what we are doing which is working our tail off, being highly coachable and learning from every opportunity. If we do those, some of those tough losses will turn into wins. I like what we are going to be as a team.”
Ball State comes home to play Omaha for the Cardinals home opener at Worthen Arena, Saturday, Nov. 13 at noon.
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