Ball State Men’s Basketball (4-3, 2-0 MAC) were without head coach James Whitford due to an illness not related to COVID-19, but it didn’t matter.
The Cardinals defeated Western Michigan (2-5, 1-2 MAC) 76-68 and became the only team in the Mid-American Conference so far this season to start 2-0 on the road in conference play.
Associate head coach Jason Grunkemeyer filled in for Whitford and noticed extra focus from the team because of his absence. Whitford started feeling sick after Ball State’s loss against Indiana State Dec. 19 and prepared his team for his absence.
“They were prepared that he might not be there,” Grunkemeyer said. “They stepped up, and I thought our focus was actually a little bit enhanced. I think that happens when you don’t have your leader with you. Everyone feels like they have to be extra sharp.”
Sophomore guard Luke Bumbalough knew his team would be ready as soon as Whitford informed him of their absence, and he believes it all came down to confidence.
“We are ready for anything,” Bumbalough said. “There are a lot of ups and downs. We heard [Whitford] wasn’t going to be with us. He sent us a text and told us he believed in us and to stay together. He had confidence in us and we had confidence in each other.”
The Cardinals got off to a slow start in the first half, as they entered the break down 43-36. Bumbalough led the charge in the second half, as he scored 14 of his 17 in the second half. He ended the game 4-5 from deep and 6-7 from the field.
Bumbalough’s only other game scoring in double-figures was in the loss against Michigan, where he scored 13 points. He attributes his success to not overthinking the past.
“I was just playing more confident,” Bumbalough said. “I wasn’t so stressed and just let it go. I wasn’t worried about last possession. Just playing confident because I put the work in so I know it would show at some point.”
The Cardinals were also led by fifth-year senior K.J. Walton, who scored 20 points, and redshirt freshman Brachen Hazen who tied a career-high with 15 points.
Bumbalough believes that his shooting performance can help space the floor and make it easier for guys to score in dribble penetration.
“After I hit a couple of threes, they will limit help and hug me in the corner,” Bumbalough said. “It for sure opens up driving lanes and makes it a lot easier for [K.J. Walton and Brachen Hazen]. I haven’t been able to shoot the ball that well and hopefully I can keep [shooting well].”
Before the season, Whitford said he believes this team will be at its full potential when redshirt sophomore guard Jarron Coleman comes back from injury. Grunkemeyer said that the strong start in the MAC really sets them up for later in the season.
“Two wins on the road in the MAC without Jarron is what we hope for,” Grunkemeyer said. “To be able to deliver on that really sets us up going forward to keep playing well and once Jarron [Coleman] is back we will see what can happen.”
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @ianh_2.