BY JACK KIZER | Ball State Sports Link
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The final week of the regular season is here for college basketball and Ball State’s two remaining games have massive postseason implications.
A road test against a high-flying Toledo offensive paired with a home matchup with a stingy Northern Illinois defense provide a tough week for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals are tied for the MAC West Division lead with Western Michigan, while Toledo is one game behind them. BSU is seeking a second straight division championship after sharing last year’s title with Central Michigan
In addition, Ball State is part of a four-way tie for the No. 3 spot in the overall league standings with Buffalo, Western Michigan and Kent State. The Cardinals would currently be the No. 6 seed for the tournament based on tiebreakers.
When he steps on the floor Tuesday, Franko House will take sole possession of second place on Ball State’s career games played list at 125, surpassing Robert Owens (2000-04). Mike Spicer (1988-92) holds the school record with 126 games played.
Tayler Persons has scored double figures in 24 of Ball State’s 29 games this season and 14 of 16 games in conference play. With 457 points on the year, Persons ranks sixth on Ball State’s all-time scoring chart for sophomores. He is approaching Larry Bullington (462) for fifth on the list and Peyton Stovall (467) for fourth.
Ball State vs. Toledo: February 28th, 7pm
|Toledo Team Stats||Ball State Team Stats|
|PPG: 80.3||PPG: 79|
|PA: 76.8||PA: 75.4|
|FG%: 49%||FG%: 47%|
|3FG%: 37% (228-616)||3FG%: 37% (257-689)|
|FT%: 69% (471-684)||FT%: 73% (437-602)|
|RPG: 37.5 (Margin: +4)||RPG: 38 (Margin: +2.7)|
|APG: 16.3||APG: 15.7|
|TOPG: 13.6 (Margin: -3)||TOPG: 15.2 (Margin: -2.2)|
|SPG: 3.9||SPG: 6.0|
|BPG: 2.6||BPG: 3.6|
This week’s first game at Toledo is yet another important test for Ball State.
Both teams are going in different directions with the Cardinals falling hard at Western Michigan and Toledo dominating Central Michigan this past Saturday.
Ball State is now in a four way tie at 9-7 in the conference standings, while the Rockets are just a game behind at 8-8. The difference between the two teams is the result of their first meeting back in January.
Ball State topped Toledo, 81-80, in a tight game in Muncie. Tayler Persons played his best game of the season, recording a then career high 26 points, while Tahjai Teague contributed 16 points in just 10 minutes off the bench.
Toledo’s Steve Taylor, Jr. scored 23 points and corralled 18 rebounds, but was limited to seven points in the second half. The absence of leading scorer Jonathan Williams was felt by the Rockets as they only managed 34 points in the second frame.
Williams will be on the floor for Tuesday’s matchup however, which is critical as he makes Toledo’s offense a juggernaut. Averaging 20 points per game, he is a gifted shot-maker from multiple areas on the court. The combination of Williams, Taylor’s 15 points per game and Jaelan Sanford’s 13 points each contest is a difficult task for opposing defenses.
With Sanford handling the ball, Toledo shares the rock exceptionally well averaging over 16 team assists per game. Their defense has statistically struggled, but the last two games they’ve allowed just 56 and 66 points, respectively. With the way the Rockets offense runs, a good defensive effort makes them extremely challenging to beat. This is especially the case at home, where Toledo is 11-3.
Persons and Franko House will need to make plays if the Cards hope to keep pace with Williams and company. They combined for over half of Ball State’s points at Western Michigan over the weekend, but looked frustrated and out of sync, epitomizing the entire offensive performance.
With only two games remaining, the Cardinals will have to play their best basketball Tuesday night at Toledo to keep hopes of getting a top four seed in the conference tournament alive.
Ball State vs. Northern Illinois: March 3rd, 7pm
|Northern Illinois Team Stats||Ball State Team Stats|
|PPG: 72.5||PPG: 79|
|PA: 70.1||PA: 75.4|
|FG%: 44%||FG%: 47%|
|3FG%: 31% (146-469)||3FG%: 37% (257-689)|
|FT%: 68% (441-649)||FT%: 73% (437-602)|
|RPG: 37.9 (Margin: +3.1)||RPG: 38 (Margin: +2.7)|
|APG: 10.9||APG: 15.7|
|TOPG: 13.4 (Margin: +1.8)||TOPG: 15.2 (Margin: -2.2)|
|SPG: 7.3||SPG: 6.0|
|BPG: 2.6||BPG: 3.6|
The last regular season game for Ball State is round two versus Northern Illinois.
The first time the Cardinals and Huskies played, it was a steal of a win for Ball State up in DeKalb. After trailing by eight with four minutes remaining, the Cards used an 8-0 run capped by a Ryan Weber three with twelve seconds remaining to force overtime.
An 11-0 run then resulted to start off the extra period, propelling Ball State to finish off the comeback. The final score was 81-72 but it was tied at 61 going into overtime. Slugfest is a perfect word to describe what the early Feburary game entailed, and it’s doubtful much changes this Friday.
Northern Illinois is still the worst offense in the MAC, averaging 72.5 points per game, but has one of the best defenses, allowing just 70 points per game.
The limited offense Northern does have starts with sensational freshman Eugene German, who totaled 20 points last time out against Ball State and most recently scored 23 against Eastern Michigan. The other Huskie who is an exceptional scorer is Marin Maric.
Despite leading the team in scoring at 14 point per game, Maric chipped in just nine a month ago. It was on off-game for Maric, and while the Cardinals can use that same defensive approach because of its success, they can’t count on Maric to struggle again.
Weber’s 23 points and outside shooting kept Ball State in it the first game, but didn’t represent the offense’s overall performance. Persons and House were both held to single digits and the Cardinals committed 21 turnovers. NIU’s average of 7.3 steals per game is spectacular and could cause more turnover issues for Ball State.
Taking care of the ball and bringing the same defensive intensity are key for the Cardinals on Friday, a game that could determine where and when they play in the MAC Tournament next week.