This is a special season.
Ball State (17-7, 8-3 MAC) now has its best record since 1998 and is showing no signs of slowing down. Tonight, the Cardinals traveled to Mount Pleasant, Michigan to take on Central Michigan (8-16, 3-8 MAC) and left with a win.
At the beginning of the game, the Chippewas came out shooting hot and playing good defense. At first, the Cardinals didn’t adapt.
“We just settled for some quick threes and when things aren't coming easy, that's not the answer,” head coach Michael Lewis said. “The answer is to continue to be who we are and to play through the paint and once we were able to do that and attack and get to the paint off the bounce, I think it opens some things up for us.”
At around the six-and-a-half minute mark Ball State took the lead 23 to 21 on an emphatic fast break slam from sophomore Jaylin Sellers and never relinquished it.
“Once we settled in offensively, we [only] gave up 40 points over the next 35 minutes so [I’m] really proud of the defensive effort [that] gave us an opportunity to figure out what we need to do from an offensive standpoint,” Lewis said. “They were doing some different things, and I thought our guys played with a lot of poise.”
The defensive end of the court has been this team’s bread and butter this season. They held Central Michigan to shooting 33.9 percent (19-56 from the field) and 22.2 percent from three-point range (4-18).
The Cardinals have had to learn how to combat poor performance on the offensive end by taking better shots and having a next-play mentality.
“I think early in the year when things weren't going well for us offensively it affected us on the defensive end. I use the term offensive sensitive, you get offensive sensitive when things aren't going [your] way or points are hard to come by, you start worrying about that instead of taking care of the other end…” Lewis said. “I think that growth is that they understand that you can win games other [ways] than just making a bunch of jump shots.”
Redshirt sophomore Mickey Pearson, Jr. led the way for Ball State with 13 points on 71.4 percent shooting (5-7 FG) and two three-pointers (66.7 percent). At the beginning of the season, he came off the bench, then once he began starting, his production grew immensely.
“He's a kid that early on bought into a role and he's excelled at it and showed the different things he's capable of. That role has grown and [I’m] really proud of him and he saw early on what he had to do to get on the floor.” Lewis said. “He bought into it, and he excelled at it as he's done that, he's turned into a pretty good college basketball player.”
Once again the Cardinals had a spread-out and balanced scoring attack with five players in double digits. Demarius Jacobs and Sellers each finished with 12 and Payton Sparks had a double-double with 11 points and ten rebounds. Basheer Jihad finished with ten points off the bench.
Lewis believes his guys are in a great stretch right now, winning four straight games and playing good basketball.
“They're playing the right basketball. They're playing meaningful games in February. They are having a year here that hasn't happened in a long long time in Muncie, so they deserve to be having the fun that they're having.” he said. “I just ask that they continue to give an effort, continue to fight and bring basketball into play.”
In what was a solid road conference win, Lewis believes the only negative to come from this game was 16 turnovers as a team. While these turnovers prevented them from breaking the game away sooner, they were still able to keep and control their lead.
“Obviously, we had 16 turnovers too many but [we] made plays and got the stops that we needed. Our defense kept us in the game,” he said. “That's how you win games on the road here in February so [I'm] really proud of the defensive effort and we'll continue to try to improve and clean a few things up and try to get ready for Saturday.”
The Cardinals are back to Muncie this Saturday, Feb. 11 to take on Bowling Green (10-14, 4-7 MAC) at 2 p.m., looking to secure a fifth straight win.
Contact Derran Cobb with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @Derran_cobb.