For the first time in six games, as the horn sounded to end the game, the Cardinals were not hanging their heads, prepping for overtime or taking a sigh of relief.
Ball State Men's Basketball (13-12, 4-7 MAC) was heading into the locker room with a 20 point win over Western Michigan (6-17, 0-10 MAC), 79-59. The finish was the first time since defeating Central Michigan that the team has won by more than 10 points.
"I thought it was a good win," head coach James Whitford said. "I thought in the beginning of the game we grew a little bit. When things weren't going well for us, we were able to keep our defense where it needed to be. That's been an issue for us and I thought that was great."
One player who has been quiet on offense for the Cardinals for the past few games is junior forward Kyle Mallers. In his last three starts, the forward has averaged for only 5.2 points per game, with no points against Northern Illinois on Tuesday. Today, Mallers dropped a team leading 22 points going 6-10 from deep.
"It was a good feeling to knock down some shots," Mallers said. "Recently, I've been struggling from three and after that NIU game, I spent some time looking at some previous games trying to lock back in and just believe in myself."
Mallers performance was his strongest of the season not just on offense, but on defense as well as he would record a season high 10 pulldowns, nine of them on defense. Whitford said Mallers versatility is something the team needs.
"Kyle is going through that thing that all players go through and there's no one who doesn't go through it," Whitford said. "There some point in a players career where the basket is so small and you can't get one to go. You can't deny the pressure you start to feel and each one adds up. When that ball starts falling its a great feeling. We definitely needed him today."
Alongside Mallers performance, redshirt sophomore forward Brachen Hazen stepped on to the court for the first time since Dec after a back injury. In Hazen's return, he would down 11 points and heat up from deep draining 3-6 from far. While Hazen did have a big return, he's said he still has some adjusting to do.
"In the BYE week i'm hoping to get my timing back," Hazen said. "When to set a screen, when to hand it off and stuff like that. To be honest, my head was still spinning, so that's what it's going to be like when you sit out for so long."
Tip-off saw both teams scoreless for the first three minutes before redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton would lay in the first points of the game. The game remained close until Mallers would hit his second three on the day to put the Cardinals up by seven. A Hazen three would put Ball State up by 10 with 3 minutes left in the half. However, Western's Michael Flowers would down an "and one" opportunity for a four point play at the end of the quarter seeing the Broncos only down by one, 27-26.
Opposite to the start of the game, 30 combined points were scored in the first five minutes of play. At the halfway mark, the Cardinals began to pull away going up by 12 in effort from Hazen and Mallers third deep shots of the night. 11-24 shooting from three would secure the biggest home win for the Cardinals in over a month.
"This win is big and we're trying to get back on track," Mallers said. "We've lost a lot of close ones and we probably haven't played as well as we would've liked to. I think all of our belief that we have a great team is still there. It's about clicking at the right time and we're trying to get to that point."
In the win, the Cardinals broke four into double figures in Mallers (22), redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons (15), Walton (11) and Hazen (11). The team was also able to hold the Broncos top scorer Seth Dugan to just 17 points, the same number he dropped against Bowling Green on Tuesday.
Going 1-5 in games that come down to the wire, the team is happy with a the wide margin win over the Broncos.
"We really haven't won close games," Whitford said. "In the final minute in one possession games, we're 1-5, so the less of those we have to deal with the better."
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