December 5th. Two big wins. Same tie.
Head coach James Whitford dawned a beige tie with black and white plaid stripes a year ago today as Ball State Men's Basketball (6-3, 0-0 MAC) stunned then No. 9 Notre Dame. 365 days later, the Cardinals took down last season's Final Four contender, Loyola Chicago (5-4, 0-0 MVC), 75-69.
"I did know I wore the same tie, but i didn't know it was a year ago to the day," Whitford said. "I do know that were going to try to get Duke or North Carolina December 5, 2019."
However, the Cardinals didn't gain certification of the victory until the final seconds of the game as the Ramblers wouldn't quit. Heading into the second half with a 7 point lead, Loyola would roar back pulling within one possession three times in the second half. A layup by Clayton Custer would pull the Ramblers within one with 2:48 left in the game.
It was redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague who sparked the Cardinals 9-2 run to the end of the game that would seal the victory for the Cardinals. Alongside a strong 14 point performance, Teague pulled down a team high nine rebounds in the win.
"It was hard for us for awhile there because we knew what we had to do," Whitford said. "We were playing without Tahjai for some stretches and we needed him there. Thank god he got back in the game."
Redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton tied his career high in points with 22 in the win. He was 78 percent from field goal range. Walton contributed to the Cardinals 58 percent accuracy from inside the paint.
"You could try to keep him away from the basket, but it's hard to do," Whitford said. "With the difference now and the beginning of the year is he knows when to go and not to go. Along as he has space, he's going to get to the rim."
The first half of the game started off close with both teams tying the game five times. The midway point would see the Cardinals gain some space with sophomore forward Zach Gunn knocking down three straight from outside the arc for a 25-18 lead. The Cardinals would carry the lead into halftime, 37-30.
The second half would see the Cardinals hold a sizable lead until the 11:30 point when Loyola's Marques Townes would layup for two and bring the Ramblers within four. The junior had 14 points on the night. The rest of the half would see both teams go back and forth with momentum. A Custer layup would give the Ramblers a late lead, but a Ball State run to the end would be enough for the win.
"I credit our leaders Tayler and Trey in those huddle ups on the bench for understanding that this is a game of runs" Whitford said. "We watched the Furman game and they were up 21-6 and then were down 40-29. They would later comeback to win the game. We told them to see that it was ok if they were up 15 or down 10. They just need to stay locked in to the next play. "
The Cardinals extend their win streak to five and will face Evansville on Sunday at Ford Arena.
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