Freshman center Payton Sparks slams the ball in the face of a Miami (Ohio) player and screams as the crowd erupts.
Redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas gets the ball stolen, runs down the court to block a Miami (Ohio) player and scores in the very next possession.
A few plays later, he dives to the ground for a loose ball, and while Ball State didn’t get the ball, it showcased what Thomas and Ball State Men’s Basketball (8-10, 3-4 MAC) were doing all game in their 81-64 win over the Redhawks (9-9, 3-4 MAC): diving for loose balls and rebounding the ball.
Hustle, energy and getting the ball inside is what head coach James Whitford said was a big factor of why the Cardinals were able to win.
“We knew we were bigger than them,” Whitford said. “We knew we had to get the ball inside. It's also just a point of emphasis for us. We've gotten away from it a little bit, getting the ball inside out, and I thought we got back to it. It doesn't have to be post catches. It can be drives, but you have to put pressure on the rim.”
Thomas had 11 first-half points and a career-high 26 on the game followed by Ball State applying pressure early on inside the paint against the Redhawks with 16 of their 31 points coming from down low.
Thomas had some time off to really work on his game, and he credited that to his career performance.
“Just stacking days, we've had time with the cancellation of the Central Michigan game and me not playing the Buffalo game,” Thomas said. “I've just been able to get get reps with the managers and with coaches to be able to just just get who I am.”
Whitford said that Thomas’ smart play and hustle helped him have a strong game. He added eight rebounds and four assists to his career-high points.
“He really played smart,” Thomas said. “He really played smart defensively. Had a couple big blocks had a couple where he helped and I thought it the fact that he made shots is icing on the cake because he would have impacted winning in a huge way even if he didn't shoot the ball.”
The Cardinals’ defense held Miami (Ohio) to 39 percent shooting and outrebounded them 35-22, preventing them from taking a lead through the entirety of the game.
“We knew coming in that they were bottom four in the league in rebounds,” Thomas said. “So, yesterday in practice, we just keyed in on going hard on rebounds, just hitting each other. We're a tough team, and we're young. We have guys who like being physical. So we just come into the game, and we're gonna be the toughest team for 40 minutes
The beginning of the second half went back-and-forth, as both teams traded baskets. With 9:40 left in the game, more of what led the Cardinals came back around, as Sparks blocked the Redhawks shot off of the backboard and sent the fans out of their seats like he did multiple times in the first half.
“I just want to do anything to help the team,” Sparks said. “So just drawing charges, chasing loose balls, trying to grab boards and help the team. I just want everyone else to succeed before I do. So. That's what I like to do.”
Just when Miami (OH) started to come back with around five minutes left in the game and cut the lead to single digits, junior guard Luke Bumbalough hit a 3-pointer, the defense got a stop and Sparks got fouled to extend Ball State’s lead to 71-57.
A few plays later In typical fashion of Tuesday night’s game, Thomas slams another dunk with 3:30 left in the game. The next play Sparks dives to the ground to force another Miami turnover, and runs all the way down the floor and gets another dunk.
Ball State travels to Northern Illinois to play the Huskies, Thursday, Jan. 27 for a 7 p.m. start.
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ianh_2.