On Saturday afternoon, Ball State attempted to improve its spot in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) as Bowling Green visited Worthen Arena. Before the game, they were alone in fourth place.
After the Cardinals (17-7) used an offensive clinic to guide them past the Falcons (10-14) 93-72, they now sit tied for third and have a chance for second place.
“We came out and attacked the first half,” head coach Michael Lewis said. “I thought it was super efficient. You get a chance to shoot 63% and they were bringing some doubles. Payton [Sparks] did a great job of recognizing the doubles and where they're coming from and finding the open man.”
The Cardinals started strong on offense. But even with the start, they led most of the half by single digits. That did not last long as the home team started to hit open shooters. By the end of the game, they had out-assisted the Falcons 21-5.
“You know, I think we're pretty efficient,” coach Lewis said. “ When we move and share the basketball. When we start pounding it 1000 times its kind of out of character. We're not near as good as we are when our balls pop to the side and take advantage of closeouts and mismatches.”
During the game, two offensive performances stuck out. One was sophomore Jaylin Sellers. In the first half, he went 5-5 (100 percent) from the 3-point line, a new career high. He would end the game with 17 points, which was second for the Cardinals.
“They weren't really closing out and they helped from the back side,” he said. “So my teammates found me. I gotta give credit to them. Only thing I had to do was hit the shot.”
The other Cardinal that had no issue scoring was sophomore center Payton Sparks. He led the team with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Later in the game, Sparks, Sellers and redshirt junior guard Jarron Coleman found themselves in foul trouble. This opened the door for bench players to get some extra minutes. Junior guard Luke Bumbalough came in and performed well, finishing the contest with eight points and leading Ball State with eight assists.
Junior guard Kayiem Cleary was another bench player that found success. He had multiple moments that shined in the win. A block, taking a charge and a put-back slam dunk brought the home crowd to their feet just name a few.
“It's those two guys' characters,” Lewis said. “It's, you know, their approach to the game. Neither one of them, their season hasn't been perfect, or probably how they envisioned it. To have the maturity to continue to approach practice and games with a team mindset… It's about their approach and the buying into being a part of a winning team. And to do that everybody has to make individual sacrifices.”
With the MAC tournament coming up, the Cardinals can’t ignore the noise.
“Of course, you see all the other teams and all that stuff, but you don't want to say oh,” Sparks said. “We're worried about the next game. Next game is the most important game.”
Coach Lewis said he is not focusing on the tournament just yet, but he knows what he wants for his team going into the final stretch of the regular season.
“It's not my focus,” Lewis said. “My focus is on us continuing to get better and put ourselves in the best possible position to try to win three games in Cleveland. That's why I was upset with you know, six to eight minutes stretch there in the second half where we let a 30-point lead go to 18. In today's world, you can't help but know what's going on and where we are but you know, in our league, you're trying to win a championship but you're also trying to position yourself best to try to compete for three days.”
The Cardinals stay at home in Worthen Arena next as Northern Illinois visits on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Tip off is at 7 p.m.