Ball State headed in right direction despite loss to Akron

Freshman center Payton Sparks (5) dunks the ball against IU Kokomo on Dec. 12, 2021 at Worthen Arena in Muncie, IN. Sparks scored 12 points throughout the game. Amber Pietz, DN
Freshman center Payton Sparks (5) dunks the ball against IU Kokomo on Dec. 12, 2021 at Worthen Arena in Muncie, IN. Sparks scored 12 points throughout the game. Amber Pietz, DN

Despite Ball State Men’s Basketball's (7-8, 2-2 MAC) 84-74 loss to Akron (9-4, 2-1 MAC), head coach James Whitford and freshman center Payton Sparks said they believe the Cardinals are starting to play together with good chemistry as Mid-American Conference play begins.

For the second consecutive game, Ball State has had four players score in double-figures, and that balanced attack is what Sparks said will start to help them win games.

“It feels great,” Sparks said. “We are working together as a team. Everybody is getting their share. We just have to finish games. It does feel good that everybody is contributing. We are a good team, and we just have to finish these games.”

Sparks led Ball State with 23 points and 10 rebounds, notching his first career double-double. Redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas scored 12 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting.

“It’s good,” Whitford said. “They guys are really learning how to play together. I thought I saw that early in the game. I thought we came out in the right frame of mind. I like our chemistry. I thought we played the right way tonight. We didn’t play well enough to win, but we competed our tails off.”

Ball State started off strong forcing 10 Zips’ turnovers in the first half and went into the break with a 36-33 lead. The second half was a different story, as the Zips were able to put together 51 points in the final 20 minutes and ultimately win the game.

Whitford said the biggest concern was the second-chance points and offensive rebounding, as the Cardinals allowed Akron 24 second-chance opportunities and 13 offensive rebounds. 

“I thought long rebounds really hurt us,” Whitford said. “They have big guys, so some of those rebounds right around the rim, they will get some. You always have to lock in on the controllable. Some of those, the ball would hit the floor and, we had guys watching instead of pursuing. We were a little bit like deer in the headlights.”  

Akron was led by its starting guard, Xavier Castaneda who scored a game-high 29 points along with five rebounds and six assists. Forward Bryan Trimble Jr. 19 points to the total.

“You have to make all of [Castaneda’s] shots tough,” Whitford said. “He hit some tough ones, and he hit some easy ones. He had back-to-back threes in the second half that kicked it off where both were unchallenged. You live with the consequences of the tough ones. You do your best to make them tough, and in the long haul, that wins the game.” 

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




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