While most Ball State students hunkered down in their first week of winter break, the men’s basketball team took to the court in Worthen Arena against Georgia Southern.
Defeating the Eagles 58-54 after a nervy first half, the Cardinals sit 8-4 with one game left before the Mid-American Conference (MAC) regular season begins with Toledo Jan. 3.
In the glow of my Christmas Tree back home in Michigan, I jotted down a few things I saw from Ball State’s win tonight.
With Sparks in foul trouble, Ball State struggled early
Center Payton Sparks picked up this season where he left off the 2021-22 campaign, dominant. Coming into the home bout with Georgia Southern, the 2021 MAC Freshman of the Year was averaging 13.7 points per game, eight rebounds and was shooting 62 percent from the field. Nine blocks and six steals help him prove his metal on defense too, but after quick fouls in the first ten minutes of the game, Sparks was sidelined until the dying minutes of the first half.
Ball State wasn’t helpless by any means thanks to guard Jaylin Sellers (don’t worry, I’ll get there), but there was a noticeable difference in the build-up and execution on offense which lead to a seven-point deficit going into the locker room.
With fewer minutes, Sparks finished with seven rebounds and four points in what was a down performance for the sophomore out of Winchester, Indiana.
The Sellers show goes on
Sellers, who was on the court for a team-high 39 minutes against the Eagles, carried the brunt of the offense in the opening period of the matchup with nine of Ball State’s 17 first-half points. Up until a 3-point shot from sophomore forward Basheer Jihad around the nine-minute mark in the first half, Sellers scored all of the Cardinals' points.
The sophomore out of Columbus, Georgia, added another nine points in the second half to finish top of the Cardinals’ scoring total with a tied team-high seven rebounds, an assist and a steal to go along.
Sellers, who appeared in the 2021 All-MAC Freshman Team, continued a steady growth in production from a season-high 16 points in his first season to six different games eclipsing that total so far this season.
With Sellers’ help, Ball State went on to erase a 16-point deficit in the second half, edge out the Eagles, and hold on to win.
Another strong defensive showing from Jacobs
While the offense needed some extra beats to hop back in rhythm at a few moments in the game, guard Demarius Jacobs helped anchor the Ball State defense to allow for catchup and eventually to put the game on ice late.
The senior guard leads the MAC in blocks per game (1.5 blocks) and recorded a season-high four blocks against Georgia Southern while putting up 11 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The 54 points the Cardinals held the Eagles to is the second-least amount of points they have held a team to all season (Earlham only managed 39 points in the season opener).
Jacobs, along with redshirt sophomore guard Mickey Pearsons and sophomore forward Basheer Jihad off the bench, settled a Ball State team that has seen itself unravel in past moments like this. Ball State has done a good job staying balanced across the court and adjusting to the situations that games call for. It’s early doors for head coach Michael Lewis, but there is progress in Muncie.
The Cardinals hit the court again after the holiday, facing Chicago State Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. in their final match before the MAC season begins.