By: Connor Onion | @Conion22
Play-by-play voice on SL Radio on WCRD
Member of Ball State Sports Link
Ball State (14-8, 5-4) takes on Western Michigan (9-13, 3-6) in a MAC West Showdown on Saturday at 2:00pm.
The game can be heard on Sports Link Radio.
Down and out against Bowling Green on Tuesday night, Ball State trailed by 14 points in the second half. The deficit was a result of a cold spell, which saw the Cardinals go without a field goal for ten minutes. With nearly 15 minutes to play, Ryan Weber nailed a three and the comeback was on. Francis Kiapway completed the rally with a layup at the 3:05 mark to push Ball State ahead for good on their way to a 72-64 triumph.
Ball State clamped down defensively in the second period, making adjustments to their pick and roll defense, allowing Bowling Green to shoot a dismal 18% from the field. The cog in the center of the stingy performance was Nate Wells, who played a season-high 24 minutes and provided much needed rim protection.
Naiel Smith also got back on track off the bench for the Cardinals. In the five games previous to Bowling Green Smith tallied a total of three assists. With 4 assists compared to one turnover on Tuesday, Ball State Head Coach James Whitford praised the performance of his junior point guard at practice on Friday.
Ball State has won with their depth this season with five players averaging 9.9 points per game or more during the MAC campaign. Western Michigan on the other hand is heavily reliant on two players to do a bulk of their scoring: Tucker Haymond and Thomas Wilder.
The duo has taken 43% of Western’s shots and scored 47% of the team’s points through out 2015-16. To put those numbers in to perspective, Ball State’s top scorers Ryan Weber and Franko House have only accounted for 30% of the Cardinals scoring this season.
Haymond has made drastic improvements each year in Kalamazoo. He has seen his scoring average increase five points per game in each of his three seasons as a Bronco. This season he’s fourth in the MAC in scoring at 17 points per game. The fact Western Michigan is 0-3 this year when he fails to score in double figures emphasizes his value.
Wilder is a high volume scorer. It took him 14 shots to score 21 points against Ball State in a losing effort on January 12th. He leads the team and is second in the conference averaging 19 points per game.
A season ago, Toledo’s Julius Brown was the class of the MAC at the point guard position. Coach Whitford believes Wilder, as a sophomore, has already surpassed the skill level of the former 1st Team All-MAC selection, Julius Brown.
First Place on the Line
After Central Michigan fell to Akron on Friday night, Ball State sits a half game back of the lead in the MAC West Division. If the Cardinals take care of business, it would be the first time in the James Whitford era Ball State claimed first place this late in the year.
Ball State travels to Central Michigan next Saturday after hosting Ohio on Tuesday night.