“In every drill we do, it looks like he's trying out for the New York Knicks when he does the drill,” Ball State Men’s Basketball (7-8, 2-2 MAC) head coach James Whitford said. “It's why he gets so much better.”
In its 84-74 loss against Akron (9-4, 2-1 MAC) Jan. 11, Ball State freshman center Payton Sparks scored a career-high 23 points. He also recorded a team-high 10 rebounds, earning the first double-double of his career.
“His work ethic and his process is off the charts, that's what stands out to me the most is just his daily approach,” Whitford said.
Sparks finished 8-of-14 from the field in the most shot attempts he’s taken this season. He has scored 10 or more points in five consecutive games and said he feels more comfortable as the season progresses.
“I think I'm very comfortable,” Sparks said. “I'm really confident. I'm confident in this team too, so [we] just keep moving forward, improving everyday [and] keep working hard.”
Sparks was 7-of-9 from the free-throw line, and said he understands the importance of finishing at the basket and free-throw line.
“I just like putting the defense in bad positions,” Sparks said. “I just have to finish at the line too, when they do foul me. I just like getting to my spots.”
Ball State shot 13-of-23 from the free-throw line and allowed 24 second-chance points. The Cardinals outscored the Zips 40-34 in points in the paint, and Whitford credited ball control and patience for allowing the offense to function.
“They really pressured us,” Whitford said. “They tried to pick up Demarius [Jacobs] full court every time, and he handled it well. We were able to get the ball inside against the pressure, so I thought handling the pressure was the best sign. 13 turnovers is pretty good when they're pressuring us for 40 minutes.”
Sparks said the camaraderie within the Cardinals and commitment to improving will result in wins.
“Coming in, day in and day out, watching film, just getting better everyday with the team and just getting closer,” Sparks said. “I think the wins will definitely come.”
Ball State returns to action Jan. 14 against Buffalo (8-6, 2-2 MAC). Tipoff is 6 p.m.