Jarron Coleman with the rebound. He swings it to Jaylin Sellers up the court. Sellers pulls up for a 3-pointer… it’s good. The packed Worthen Arena roars with cheers as Kent State calls timeout.
That moment was likely the most pivotal moment of the game for the Cardinals (20-8, 11-4 MAC), as they mounted a 16-5 run to start the second half to propel themselves to victory over the Kent State Golden Flashes (22-6, 12-3 MAC).
With tonight’s win, Ball State secures its first 20-win season in the last six seasons and its 13th in 102 years.
Sellers, who was forced to sit on the bench for most of the first half after picking up three fouls, sparked this run, scoring 12 points in the first four minutes of the second half, culminating in this electric sequence. He said that head coach Michael Lewis told him to stay patient and be ready.
“Coach told me when I was on the bench [when] I was mad I had picked up my third foul and he's like, 'Calm down. You're gonna be the one to help us win this game in the second half,”” he said. “So, I just cheered my teammates on and made sure I kept the same energy. When I came back, I knew I was gonna stay aggressive and just stay in the game.”
Senior guard Luke Bumbalough was catapulted into the starting lineup tonight after redshirt sophomore Mickey Pearson Jr. was out with a lower leg injury.
“With Mickey being out and putting Luke in the starting lineup, we were able to play smaller, allowed us to spread the floor and we were able to get into the paint, both off the bounce and through post feeds,” Lewis said. “Then we were able to take care of or handle some of their rotations and get some open shots and guys made plays.”
Bumbalough, in his first start since October, finished with 13 points to go with 4 assists and some crowd-igniting baskets.
“I'm just ready to go whenever [my] number is called, like coach said, just being ready to compete,” he said. “Whatever that is, whatever minutes they are, just coming in starting on the defensive end, because I feel like the defensive end gets me in my mojo and playing hard.”
Lewis explained that he knows Bumbalough might have had a difficult season, adjusting to the new system after starting the last couple of seasons, but that the veteran has what it takes to be good for the program.
“It's really, really difficult to be on a good and winning basketball team in college basketball because he's [Bumbalough] got to sacrifice. He's [Sellers] got to sacrifice,” he said. “Everybody's got to make personal sacrifices to be a part of a winning team, and then there's a responsibility of doing that every day, and that's kind of where we are.”
Once again, the home crowd played a significant role in tonight's win. With the expectation that students will have left for spring break on the Cardinals’ regular-season finale, Lewis called for every student to receive a ‘Nest Voucher’ upon entry. ‘The Nest’ did not disappoint.
Sellers added that he and the team take the energy from the home crowd and make it their mission to play better.
“I fuel a lot off the energy. Especially [when] we make a big play and you just hear the crowd behind you,” he said. “How can you not just keep playing hard or keep trying to make plays for your teammates? Or just trying to play good basketball for them? Some of them pay the money and the students come out of support so you’ve got to give them what they want.”
In another game with five double-digit scorers (almost six), Sellers finished with a team-high 20 points, followed by Bumbalough and Basheer Jihad with 13 while Demarius Jacobs had 12 and Payton Sparks had 11.
Ball State heads back on the road to take on Eastern Michigan (7-21, 4-11 MAC) in Ypsilanti, Michigan, at 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 25.