It was all over.
Senior center Trey Moses launched a three-point attempt that would bounce off the backboard and fall to the court as the clock hit zero.
In a rollercoaster season where the Cardinals reached highs of upsetting No. 9 Notre Dame, ended in a heartbreaking 76-73 loss to Kent State in the MAC tournament quarterfinals.
“My team along with myself played as hard as we could,” redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons said. “It’s a little discouraging losing in the quarterfinals, but we gave it our all and we know what it takes to win a championship.”
Six months later, Ball State Men’s Basketball was back on the court at the new Dr. Don Shondell practice center. While the Cardinals’ first matchup isn’t for almost another month, the team is focused in on perfecting their practice.
“Early on, we’re trying to become the best practice team we can be,” head coach James Whitford said. “We want to lock in on the best practice culture we can have, and that’s the one thing that we control everyday.”
One thing the players and coaches have seen in just the first practice on the court is a strong defense. Last season, the Cardinals recorded 3.5 blocks per game and took the ball away 5.3 times per matchup. According to Whitford, so much work has been done on the defense that they have been focused on putting in the offense now.
“Coming into this year and looking at this team, we have a chance to be outstanding on defense,” Whitford said. “We’re longer, more athletic than we have ever been, and that’s critical. We have a chance to be very good on defense and we have to be good on defense. Defense and rebounding is what we have to hammer home in the fall. That’s what they hear from me consistently, so in those two areas we can answer the bell.”
In the rebounding game, the Cardinals had a slight edge on the opposition, out rebounding opponents 38.2 to 37.2 times a game. A key in helping the Cardinals with second chances at the hoop is redshirt sophomore center Brachen Hazen. Before his time at Arkansas, Hazen was a strong force on the boards, grabbing 9.3 rebounds per game in high school.
“My biggest goal for this season is to just play,” Hazen said. “I want to be in the top three in rebounding. That’s something I really pride myself in being a good rebounder in crashing the offensive board or defensive board. I think that’s how I can help this team out the most.”
Another SEC transfer is redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton out of Missouri. Walton was a strong presence with the Tigers, registering 3.3 rebounds per game and knocking down 116 free throw attempts. With Walton off the bench for the first time this season, Persons has already found a gel with the guard.
“It’s going to be fun playing with a guy like K.J. alongside me,” Persons said. “I feel like he feeds off me and I feed off him when either of us get going. It’s something I feel like we haven’t had in the past with an athlete like that who can get to the rim at will.”
It won’t be until Nov. 2 when the Cardinals take the court at Worthen for the first time against UIndy, but the team has shown confidence early on in their defensive unit. The Cardinals have the mindset of stonewalling teams from West Lafayette to Evansville.
“I think opponents are going to expect a team that is extremely hard to score on,” Persons said. “I feel like with myself i’m trying to get better defensively, and for the shape I’m in right now, it’s going to allow me to excel in that. Alongside the guys behind me, we can excel in that. That’s what wins championships.”
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