BY JACK KIZER | Sideline Reporter for Ball State Basketball on WCRD 91.3 FM
Ball State Basketball continues an interesting non-conference slate of games this week. Already with a Monday win in Las Vegas against Coppin State, the Cardinals meet Southern Utah at the MGM Grand Wednesday and travel to in-state rival Valpo Sunday.
Ball State features two of the top 10 scorers in the Mid-American Conference through four games in sophomore point guard Tayler Persons (20.3 ppg, 4th) and senior forward Franko House (16.5 ppg, 10th). Persons is seeing his first action for the Cardinals after sitting out last season as a transfer from Northern Kentucky.
House is 19 points away from becoming the 29th 1,000-point scorer in Ball State history. House has scored double figures in all four games this season and had 12 points Monday against Coppin State despite playing just 18 minutes because of foul trouble.
Through the first four games, it has been an up-and-down start for Ball State with some trends starting to emerge.
Ball State 85, Saint Louis 64
The first contest for the Cardinals was almost all positive, as the Ball State opened its 96th season on the road and dominated Saint. Louis, 85-64.
Persons and House emerged as the two leaders of this team, with both players scoring more than 20 points. They were the key forces behind the spectacular 3-point shooting as well, with a team effort of 9-for-12 from downtown.
The defense also looked promising overall, as it held St. Louis to 19 points in the first half and a field-goal percentage of 36 percent for the entire game. Two of the few downsides of that game, however, did come from the defensive side of the ball.
Transition and on ball defending was sporadic for Ball State, and during the times when St. Louis was scoring effectively, its points came off of easy drives to the rim on fast-break and half court opportunities. Those two weaknesses carried over to Ball State’s home opener and were only part of the problem in the next game for the Cardinals.
Indiana State 80, Ball State 74 – OT
In the home opener Nov. 15 against Indiana State, the team just flat out struggled. The two defensive issues carried over into this matchup, and the shooting, especially from three-point range simply was not there for Ball State.
Persons (26 points) and House (21) topped the 20-point mark for the second straight game. They combined to shoot 16-of- 31 from the floor, but Indiana State (1-1) forced the rest of the Cardinals into a tough night. Ball State (1-1) finished the game shooting 38 percent as a team.
Indiana State’s pressure defense had a big part in this as it continued to pressure BSU’s guards into being stagnant and out of rhythm. Turnovers and missed shots resulted and led to the Sycamores exploiting Ball State’s lacking transition and on-ball defense.
Despite the difficulties, the Cardinals still almost won after forcing it into overtime. The mistakes, however, were simply were too much for the team to overcome against a well-orchestrated Indiana State team.
Alabama 77, Ball State 59
The following game put the Cardinals back on the road against an Alabama team that was just too much for Ball State to handle at this point in the season. Alabama’s athleticism, ability to cause turnovers and knock down three point shots eliminated Ball State’s hope of pulling off the upset.
After keeping it close throughout the first half, the Cardinals couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities presented to them by a struggling Crimson Tide offense. Once that got going, the Tide swept Ball State off its feet for the rest of the matchup.
Alabama’s 12 3-pointers combined with 21 BSU turnovers were the two reasons why Ball State couldn’t make it a game down the stretch against an upward trending Alabama team that has a strong chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
Ball State 79, Coppin State 77
On Monday, the team held on 79-77 against a now 0-6 Coppin State squad. The defense waned in the second half for the Cardinals as they gave up 48 points compared to a first half total of 29.
On the positive side, the offense did improve as there were 17 assists dished out, a shooting percentage of 48 percent from the field and also nine 3-pointers made.
Persons scored 19 points — all in the second half — and handed out 10 assists in Monday’s win to become the first Ball State player with a double-double of points and assists since Nov. 26, 2010 (Randy Davis vs. Southern Utah in the Great Alaska Shootout).
Where Ball State got in trouble was fouling. House and Tahjai Teague both fouled out as Coppin State shot 32 free throws. The Cardinals had 23 attempts, but shot 61 percent (14-of-23) The win moved Ball State to 2-2 on the year.
The Next Two
Ball State has two more games this week. The Cardinals take on the Thunderbirds out of Southern Utah in the final game in Las Vegas. Then, after a break for Thanksgiving, the team travels to Valparaiso for another tough in-state matchup.
The game against Southern Utah is a fantastic chance for the Cardinals to continue to work out some of their issues before a real test at Valpo. Randy Onwuasor of the Thunderbirds will present a difficult challenge for the Ball State defense, however, as he is averaging 27 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Sunday’s contest against the Crusaders will have a little extra meaning for Valpo, as Ball State was one of only seven losses in a NIT runner-up season a year ago.
At the same time, it could be easy for Valparaiso to overlook Ball State with games against No. 23 Rhode Island and top ranked Kentucky looming. The Crusaders handed Alabama a 68-60 loss Tuesday and will play at Brigham Young in Las Vegas Wednesday.
Alec Peters, the standout forward for the Crusaders will be difficult for the Cardinal big men to stop. He’s averaging 25 points and nearly nine rebounds a contest so far. Ball State found a way to do it last season, making that task seem a little bit more manageable.