BY QUINTON ZIELKE | Ball State Sports Link
Basketball is back in Muncie.
The highly-anticipated wait that looms across the campus of Ball State is over Friday night. Ball State Men’s basketball returns to familiar territory in Worthen Arena to battle Stony Brook in the midst of tough beginning schedules for both squads.
Sitting pretty at 24-11 over its past two seasons, the Cardinals have found comfort at 1699 W. Bethel Avenue (Worthen Arena).
The comfort of their own bed and a home-cooked meal will be needed within the mix of away games at Dayton, Oklahoma, Oregon, Bucknell, Indiana State and Notre Dame.
Ball State took its first trip last Friday in front of more than 13,000 fans at Dayton, Ohio.
After rallying back from seven points down, point guard Tayler Persons put the Cardinals ahead by one with 2.4 seconds to play, but Dayton’s Josh Cunningham caught a lob and laid it in with .1 seconds left to escape with the win at home.
Tahjai Teague and Persons led the way with 14 points apiece. Teague completed his double-double by adding 11 boards. Freshman Zach Gunn began his Cardinal career scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds in just 16 minutes of play.
Ball State coach James Whitford mentioned “first-game discomfort” but said he “was really proud of how we hung in there and competed for 40 minutes.”
Game 2 featured a trip to Norman, Okla., to battle a Big-12 foe: the Oklahoma Sooners. Oklahoma pressured the Cardinals early and often, which put Ball State in a “panic,” according to Whitford.
Junior Guard Jontrell Walker led the team with 23 points off the bench.
Maryland, UConn, Ball State and Michigan State headline the Seawolves road tests to begin their season. After losing its first five road games last season, Stony Brook is looking to steal at least one win from its first four matchups.
In their opening contest, Stony Brook outscored the Maryland Terrapins in the second half but lost by 15 (76-61). Redshirt freshman Akwasi Yeboah scored 15 points and shot 50 percent from the field. Junior Tyrell Sturdivant added 17 points of his own.
Stony Brook’s second road trip was at the University of Connecticut. Consistent 3-point shooting and diverse scoring had the Seawolves ahead against UConn at halftime, but a late 14-0 run gave the Huskies the 72-64 victory.
A victory in tonight’s matchup between the Cardinals and the Seawolves could provide the confidence both teams need to carry as they head back on the road.
Could the return to its home court prove the difference for Ball State Friday at Worthen Arena?
The game features a pair of mid-majors’ eager for trips to the big dance.
The game could propel momentum into a season-changing upset.
The game brings basketball back to Muncie.
•The Cardinals are in the midst of a stretch in which they play five games in 11 days. The stretch began Wednesday at Oklahoma and concludes Nov. 25 at Indiana State. During those 11 days, BSU will travel approximately 7,500 miles.
• Junior point guard Tayler Persons, a preseason All-MAC selection, handed out eight assists at Dayton and six at Oklahoma. Persons’ 7.0 assists-per-game average ranks second in the league to Miami’s Darrian Ringo (8.0).
• Sophomore forward Tahjai Teague is averaging a double-double through two games at 10.0 points and 10.5 rebounds. He has grabbed double-figure rebounds in both regular season games plus the Cardinals’ exhibition contest.
• The Cardinals are playing their fifth season under head coach James Whitford, coming off back-to-back 20-win campaigns for the first time since 1991-92 and 1992-93. BSU shared the MAC West Division title in each of the past two seasons, winning the division in consecutive years for the first time since the league implemented divisions in 1998.
• Through two games, 44.5 percent of Ball State’s scoring has come from its bench.
• The Cardinals’ bench outscored Dayton’s 31-11 in the opener, led by Zach Gunn’s 11.
• BSU’s bench outscored Oklahoma 34-30, led by a game-high 23 points from Jontrell Walker.