With two minutes and nine seconds left, freshman center Payton Sparks defends Western Michigan center Mileek McMillian.
As McMillian backs Sparks down in the post, Sparks hits the floor, drawing his second charge. Sparks leaps up and motions to the Worthen Arena crowd.
The very next defensive possession, its redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas guarding McMillian. McMillian backs Thomas down to the post, but Thomas hits the floor and draws a charging foul against McMillian, fouling him out.
Ball State (10-10, 5-4 MAC) defeated Western Michigan (4-16, 0-9 MAC) 83-72 Jan. 29, and head coach James Whitford said the consecutive charges from Sparks and Thomas represented the Cardinals toughness.
“It was great,” Whitford said. I thought those charges, the offensive rebounds, we really had those kind of plays in winning time, and that's a good sign for us. It’s a hard fought game, and we knew it'd be a hard fought game. They all are, it's college basketball.”
Thomas said he prides himself in his willingness to do whatever it takes to win and knows his teammates will celebrate him when he gets back up from the floor.
“I take pride in taking charges, I know Payton [Sparks] does,” Thomas said. “I just know my guys are rooting for me when I do take it, when I put my body on the line. I know when I do get up, there is going to be my guys cheering for me, so it makes me happy to do that.”
After leading by fifteen in the first half, the Cardinals were tied 46-46 three minutes into the second half after seven consecutive points from the Broncos. Thomas, who scored a team-high 18 points, said Ball State went back to guarding all five positions after the Broncos run.
“It was just togetherness,” Thomas said. “All five guys keyed in on not having to guard just one good player, but all five guys making sure we’re guarding wherever that action is they’re running.”
Thomas said when Western Michigan tied the score, Ball State began to blame each other and point fingers. However, Thomas said the Cardinals used the timeout to recuperate and focus.
“When they first started their run, we started to point fingers at each other,” Thomas said. “We had to dial it back and just have mercy, have grace for each other and say, ‘Hey man, we all five got to be defending.’ Once we locked in on that and everybody calmed down in the huddle, we went back out and just went back to doing what we agreed on.”
Freshman center Payton Sparks finished with a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds, while freshman guard Jaylin Sellers scored seven points in 21 minutes. Whitford said Sellers took the challenge defensively and competed against Western Michigan junior guard Lamar Norman Jr and sophomore guard B. Artis White.
“We really prepared Jaylin [Sellers] as being a guy who could help us, and I thought he was outstanding on Lamar [Norman Jr] late,” Whitford said. “When Miryne hurt his foot, and we put Jaylin in, when Miryne was ready to go, we knew we needed Miryne out there, but we couldn’t figure out who to take out because Jaylin was so good defensively.”
Sophomore guard Tyler Cochran scored 14 points and added two assists and two steals. Cochran said Sellers brought energy to the defense and mentioned he doesn’t get enough credit for his commitment off the floor.
“[I] love it,” Cochran said. “He doesn't get enough credit for how much things he does outside of basketball. He watches film all the time, he's working on his game, he's trying to perfect his craft, but he just wants to be the best player for the team. He doesn't get enough credit, but today, [we] saw how capable of a defender he is.”
Ball State returns to action Feb.1 against Ohio (16-3, 7-1 MAC). Tipoff is 7 p.m.