After dropping four straight games, it took a combined effort from redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons, senior center Trey Moses and redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague, along with a little bit of luck, to guide Ball State Men's Basketball (12-11, 3-6 MAC) to a win over Northern Illinois
(12-11, 5-5 MAC), 72-71.
"It's a sigh of a relief that we got a win," head coach James Whitford said. "We needed one after so many of these games have bounced in the wrong direction, but I don't think there should be any change in a sense of urgency... We've dug ourselves a deep hole and we should embrace that."
The trio of Teague, Moses and Kyle Mallers scored all but seven points. Moses fell one point shy of tying his career-high with 22 and recorded 10 pulldowns. Teague downed 14 going 5-9 from the field and leading the team in rebounds with 13. Persons downed a team-high 28 points to go 6-9 from deep and 9-13 from close.
"He [Persons] showed a great deal of maturity in how he really stayed within himself down the stretch," Whitford said. "He hit a couple of shots when we needed him to, but he didn't start holding the ball and kept it poppin'. He was aggressive in a way that didn't take away from allowing those other guys to be good."
Complementing the trio's performance was a gaffe by the Huskies in the final seconds of the game to seal the win for the Cardinals. A layup by Eugene German tied the game for Northern Illinois. Lacey James fouled Persons at mid-court with two seconds left, setting up the redshirt senior to down 1-2 at the line to win the game.
"When you're down in the court, you never know how hectic those moments are," Whitford said. "I feel bad for him. It's not like it was off of a free throw, but there was timeouts and it was just a fast play. We're going so fast at the other end that it's just hectic. He'll learn from it, but like I said to the team, we've had enough bounce against us we were due for one to bounce our way."
First quarter saw both teams battle for a slim lead. Persons would begin to heat up from deep going 4-3 around the halfway mark. Huskies would battle back on a 9-5 run to take the lead, but it was a deep shot from Persons at the buzzer that put the Cardinals up 27-25 at halftime.
Teague and Persons made a statement early, downing two deep shots to put Ball State up by six. Jumping out to a lead as large as 10, the Huskies would battle back to tie the game up at 54 with five minutes left. Moses would give the team some momentum late downing the "and one" opportunity to give the Cardinals the lead. After sitting out Saturday's matchup against Kent State, Whitford said Moses gave one of his best performances this season.
"He was aggressive inside," Whitford said. "They played him single coverage. They trapped Tahjai most of the game, but they didn't trap Trey until late. We talked to the big guys that if they get trapped they need to draw two or you have to score. The thing about Trey is he leads our team in assists in conference play, so he's a hard guy to trap."
A three from redshirt sophomore guard Josh Thompson would put the Cardinals up by seven on a 9-0 with a minute and a half left. A three by German would rally the Huskies late, but the foul committed by the Huskies would allow Persons to lock down the win.
In the victory, the Cardinals broke a four-game losing streak and won their first conference game, decided by less than 11 points. The Cardinals return home Saturday to take on last place Western Michigan at Worthen Arena.
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