Ball State (13-15, 8-9 MAC) held a 64-62 lead against Eastern Michigan (10-19, 5-13 MAC) with four minutes and 59 seconds left in the second half. The Cardinals were in jeopardy of suffering their fifth loss in their last six games.
However, the Cardinals turned in an 11-2 run and defeated the Eagles 75-64.
Head coach James Whitford said the Cardinals didn’t change anything in the final minutes, but put together multiple successful defensive possessions and continued playing the way they had the entire second half.
“I don't think anything changed,” Whitford said. “We had a couple [of] big stops, Demarius [Jacobs] and Jaylin [Sellers] did, but I thought we had a really good 20 minutes as a half.”
Freshman center Payton Sparks finished with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Sparks faced double teams from Eastern Michigan but said he wasn’t phased and feels comfortable as a passer in those situations.
‘I think I handled it good,” Sparks said. “When they were coming. I was just trying to look for my teammates first. But they were kind of jabbing, so I felt like I had my shot too.”
Freshman guard Jaylin Sellers scored 12 points in 25 minutes off the bench, including a stretch of eight consecutive points. With three minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the second half, Sellers intercepted an Eagles pass and threw down a breakaway dunk on the other end.
“On the steal, my coach [Whitford] called out the play,” Sellers said. “When I came around, I already knew the play so I just ran through it and got the steal.”
Eastern Michigan was led by freshman guard Noah Farrakhan with 27 points. Farrakhan shot 3-for-9 from the 3-point line, and Whitford said Sellers performed well defensively against Farrakhan.
“We kept Jaylin on him as much as we could,” Whitford said. “He's a good player, he's kind of on a good streak right now, he had 31 against Northern, 27 tonight. But it was really Jaylin, [he] did a really good job.”
Sellers said he thought he held his own, but didn’t approach the matchup against Farrakhan personally until assistant coach Khristian Smith asked him a question.
“I feel like he made some tough shots,” Sellers said. “I really didn't take it as a personal standpoint until my coach challenged me and was like, ‘How many more points are you going to let him get?”’
Sparks said he’s ecstatic for Sellers and is excited for him to keep evolving and contributing in a larger role.
“I’m proud of him man,” Sparks said. “He works hard, he’s watching film. He’s just a heck of a player and he’s going to keep growing, keep getting better. [I] can’t wait for the future for him.”
In the second half, Ball State shot 15-for-34 from the field and hit six 3-pointers. Whitford emphasized the Cardinals shot selection as a strength and referenced ‘expected results based on shots,’ a metric used in the NBA.
“It's a metric and a graphical way of trying to teach your guys to shoot good shots and take the right shots,” Whitford said. “Because you'll win the games if you do, but you don’t win them all because sometimes they don't go in, it's the nature of the game. But if you shoot good shots, that's the thing you really have control over. I thought our expected results today were, especially in the second half, great.”
Junior guard Demarius Jacobs finished with 14 points and six rebounds, while redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas chipped in 12 points and six rebounds.
The Cardinals return to Worthen Arena March 1 for their final home contest against Akron (19-9, 12-6 MAC). Tipoff is 7 p.m.
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