In their dance with Bellarmine on Saturday afternoon, three different Ball State Cardinals leaped before the referee tossed the ball for the opening tip.
“Coming off of a bad loss like Little Rock, we had a little more energy,” junior Basheer Jihad said. “We try to approach the game the same way every time.”
That energetic play style helped the Cardinals capture the 67-58 victory, keeping their undefeated home record intact.
“I thought we executed a game plan from a defensive standpoint as well as we have all year,” Ball State head coach Michael Lewis said. “That's a really good win for us right now at this point in our season.”
During the first half, the Cardinals (6-2) proved to be an issue for the Knights (2-7). One of the biggest differences between the competitors was Ball State’s ability to rebound as they outrebounded Bellarmine twenty to ten.
Leading the way with the boards was redshirt junior Ben Hendriks. The Cardinals' center grabbed seven rebounds, which is a collegiate career high. He also had a career-high after recording 11 points.
“I felt if I just kept being aggressive on the glass and getting myself open and other players open, it'd be a lot better for our team’s momentum,” Hendriks said.
Another difference between the red and white and the Knights wasn’t a stat line. It was the way that the Cardinals outpaced them and used their aggressiveness.
“ [We] felt like if we could [have good] ball movement and people movement, we could get some things early in the game and we scored 40 [points] in the first half,” Lewis said.
This season, Lewis has wanted his players to grow up and make better decisions. With the caliber of teams that the Knights have played this year, the second-year head coach thought Ball State showed just that.
“We've talked about how we have to grow in the area of doing hard things and today was extremely hard,” he said.
While both teams were similar in their shooting percentages - Ball State went 22-for-55 (40 percent) and Bellarmine finished 23-for-55 (41.8 percent) -, their numbers from three-point range were very different. While the Cardinals found some success going 7-for-17 (41.2 percent), the Knights struggled. They left the court going 3-for-16 (18.8 percent).
Even though the opening half favored Ball State, who outscored the Knights by 12 points, the second half saw some differences. One noticeable change was that the Cardinals lost some of the energy they began the game with.
“When I was [playing for Indiana University] in the Big Ten, you played against Wisconsin. It's a meat grinder and it’s like going to the dentist,” Lewis said. “It’s the same thing with Bellarmine and [head coach[ Scott [Davenport].
The Cardinals had four scorers in double figures. Leading the way for Ball State was Jihad, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, his second double-double of the season. Behind him was junior Jalin Anderson with 16 points.
With performances like Jihad’s and Hendriks’, Lewis believes that the matchup showed what the Cardinals are capable of. Four games ago, Hendriks was named Ball State’s starting center and his production has increased. However, Lewis believes changes and decisions regarding who starts don’t affect anything.
“You have to overcome the difficulties. What you did in high school is no longer good enough,” he said. “How you prepared in high school is no longer good enough. We have a team that is learning that [they] used to be able to go out in high school and just hoop.
“[During high school], you were one of the top one percent, right? Well now, everybody's at the top one percent. So what are you doing to set yourself apart from all the others?”
Ball State will return on Wednesday, Dec. 6, when the Cardinals travel to Detroit, Michigan to face Detroit Mercy (0-8). The game is set to start at 7 p.m.
Contact Zach Carter with comments at email@example.com or on X @ZachCarter85.