Unselfish play helps Ball State claim victory against Miami (Ohio)

Freshman center Payton Sparks dunks the ball against Miami (OH) on Jan. 25, 2022 at Worthen Arena in Muncie, IN. Sparks scored 23 points during the game. Amber Pietz, DN
Freshman center Payton Sparks dunks the ball against Miami (OH) on Jan. 25, 2022 at Worthen Arena in Muncie, IN. Sparks scored 23 points during the game. Amber Pietz, DN

With four minutes and 40 seconds left in the second half, sophomore guard Tyler Cochran drives from the left wing to the baseline. 

As defenders crash down, Cochran leaps through the air, passing to junior guard Demarius Jacobs. 

Jacobs turns down a 3-pointer from the right wing and swings the ball to his left, where redshirt junior Miryne Thomas stands at the top of the key. 

Thomas connects on his fourth 3-pointer and performs a bow and arrow celebration to the Worthen Arena crowd as he jogs back down the court. 

In its 81-64 win against Miami (Ohio) (9-9, 3-4 MAC) Jan. 25, Ball State Men's Basketball (8-10, 3-4 MAC) recorded a season-high 20 assists. Head coach James Whitford said it won’t show up in the stat sheet, but cutting and moving without the ball is vital to offensive success. 

“I watched the [Los Angeles] Rams press conference and [Matthew] Stafford, he called it the love of the game route,” Whitford said. “There's a lot of love of the game cuts in basketball, you have to run really hard, but it's not really for you, it's going to get someone else going.”

Thomas scored a career-high 26 points and led Ball State with eight rebounds and two blocks. Thomas said he prides himself in setting screens and enjoys seeing his teammates become open.

“When I go set a screen, I’ll see if Luke [Bumbalough] is down underneath the basket [and] I can go screen for him,” Thomas said. “If he comes up and has a three, that’s where my fun comes from. When other guys are clicking and they’re getting what they want on the court, it’s like ‘Hey man, I’m proud of you. I’m happy for you because I’m your brother.’

Freshman center Payton Sparks tied his career-high of 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a game-high four dunks. Sparks said Ball State's willingness to move the ball results in balanced scoring. 

“[My] teammates [are] always looking for me,” Sparks said. “But when I get the ball, I want to look for them too. [When] they're cutting, I want to pass them the ball and I want them to see when they're moving around, I can get them the ball. It's really fun basketball when we're all sharing the ball.”

With seven minutes and 54 seconds left in the first quarter, Sparks dunked from an assist from Cochran, who led Ball State with five assists. In transition, Sparks said his mindset is to move down the court as quickly as possible and fill the lane to the rim. 

“Coach [Whitford] is telling me to rim run,” Sparks said. “When we get the chance for a defensive stop, we get a stop first, then [I] run to the rim as hard as I can. I just listen to him and do it every time.”

The Cardinals outscored the RedHawks 15-2 in fastbreak points, and Thomas said he relies on defensive anticipation to help initiate transition offense. 

“You know where the next pass is going in basketball because we watch film and scout defense,” Thomas said. “I try to anticipate shooting the gap at the right time because most of the time, it's the point guard passing to the power forward from slot to slot, and I try to intercept that pass as it comes from across the free-throw line.”

The Cardinals return to action against Northern Illinois (5-11, 2-4 MAC) Jan. 27. Tipoff is 7 p.m.

Contact Charleston Bowles with comments at clbowles@bsu.edu or on Twitter @cbowles01.


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