Ball State holds on in home opener against Omaha

There is 7:58 left in the first half in Ball State Men’s Basketball’s (1-1) 73-69 home opener win against Omaha (1-1). 

Junior guard Jalen Windham gets the ball and makes a 3-pointer to give the Cardinals a 30-10 lead.

The next play, senior guard Demarius Jacobs gets a rebound and pushes the ball down the floor to junior guard Luke Bumbalough who makes a 3-pointer to give the Cardinals a 33-10 lead.

The next play, with 6:53 left in the half, Windham passes the ball to Jacobs who sinks a 3-pointer to give the Cardinals a 36-10 lead. Ball State went 15-for-31 in the first half from deep, which gave them a 44-21 lead at the break.

“I thought when we moved the ball, we had really good possessions,” head coach James Whitford said. “When our ball movement got choppy, I don’t think we had as good of possessions. We also have to do a better job at the free-throw line.” 

The Cardinals shot 59 percent from the free-throw line which almost cost them the game. Despite leading by 21 points at the half, the Mavericks were able to storm back with a 12-0 run late in the second half to cut the deficit to as close as a point. The run was halted with a free throw by freshman center Payton Sparks.

“It was big for the team just to see a basket go through,” Sparks said. “They went on that big run. It was just big for the team.” 

Sparks had 13 points and five rebounds. Windham led the Cardinals with 14 points and went 4-for-5 from deep. He said it was huge for his confidence to have this kind of game.

“It’s good for me,” Windham said. “My job is to come in and just bring the energy off of the bench. Last year, I kind of struggled. I was in and out. Just finally getting the opportunity to get out there is big confidence-wise. At the end of the day, I just want to win.”

Jacobs started his first game of the season and filled the stat sheet with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists. Whitford said his team-first mindset will help Ball State this season in a positive way.

“Demarius has earned it,” Whitford said. “He has earned it all the way from the start. I really thought he was a difference for us out there. He is a calming presence out there. He is a very smart player and a very selfless player. He is a team-first guy. Guys like to play with him.”

Despite Omaha coming back, Whitford thinks this kind of pressure is good for the Cardinals with how young they are as a team.

“It is really important,” Whitford said. “The pressure you feel out there, no one understands it but the players being in the moment under the lights. All of the emotions that come with the game. Being able to stay focused and play basketball through all of that stuff. I don’t think a lot of high school players fully understand it until they get to college.” 

Ball State looks to have a winning record, as they head to Florida to take on Florida International University at the Jersey Mike’s Classic on Nov.18 at 8 p.m.

“I am really excited we were able to get our first win,” Whitford said. “I was really pleased about two things. The way we started the game was really exciting. I think our defensive intensity set the tone. It set the stage for who we can be. I also think the final four minutes, we defended right.”

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

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