BY SAM ROTH | Ball State Sports Link
The Ball State men’s basketball team opened its 2017-18 season against Dayton Friday night and you couldn’t ask for a more competitive contest to start out.
It didn’t look good at the start, as Dayton came out tearing through the Ball State’s perimeter defense. It also didn’t help the Cardinals missed their first 10 shots. This was mostly because of some poor ball movement on offense and settling for some bad looks.
At a 14-0 deficit in the first five minutes, some great bench play — ignited by freshman Ishmael El-Amin and Zach Gunn — was able to keep the game relatively close until the starters got back in.
Taylor Persons was able to end the half with four straight assists to make a game that didn’t seem close at all, only within three points at the half.
The second half brought a Ball State team ready to take the ball to the paint, and it did wonders for the offense. Defenders began to collapse, which led shooters to getting open looks, which led to buckets.
These buckets got the team into a rhythm on both ends of the floor, and Ball State was able to get its largest lead of the night of points midway through the second half.
Flyers guard Darrell Davis went on a little run of his own though, hitting a jumper, muscling an and-1, and hitting a three pointer to quickly erase the visitor’s lead, though.
All seemed lost when Dayton was up by seven with three minutes left, when Tahjai Teague was able to bully out an important steal right after a Ball State turnover.
Teague followed with a jumper to cut Dayton’s lead to five. That wasn’t all he would do though, as he hit a clutch three to bring it within two. His aim from long-range reminding us he shot 41 percent from behind the arc last year.
The last 1:30 belonged to Persons though, as he scored the final six points to give BSU a short-lived 77-76 lead. But, the Flyers answered on their homecourt to deny the Cardinals’ bid for a season-opening road win.
Dayton’s Josh Cunningham caught a lob, turned and laid it in with just 0.1 seconds showing on the clock as the Flyers escaped with a 78-77 victory.
“Tough ending,” Ball State coach James Whitford said postgame. “I just told the guys in the locker room I thought we played a good game. I felt like we had some first-game discomfort, and I feel like we’re better than we played tonight. But the thing I was really proud of is how we hung in there and competed for 40 minutes.”
This was a tough one to take, mostly because Ball State had truly great performances down the stretch of the game. But because of how close this game was and what it would have meant, only makes me more excited to watch the next game — at Oklahoma this Wednesday.
More Ball State Notes:
- It was very encouraging to see the youngbloods step in and contribute right away. Nothing in basketball is better to me than good shot selection and Zach Gunn did a great job of that in his first game. He looked composed at all times he was on the court and scored 11 points while going 2-for-4 from distance.
- The other freshman, Ishmael El-Amin, was just as fun to watch in his own way. While Gunn brought a composure to his game, El-Amin brought energy into the second unit. This guy has a nice second gear in his game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is already the fastest player on the team. He was able to round out a nice game of seven points, four rebounds, a steal and two assists. Both of those assists going to his freshman counterpart.
- One of the reasons Friday’s matchup was such an interesting one was because of the two totally different makeups of both teams. Dayton had no problem getting to the rim all night, they clearly just have some stronger and faster athletes overall. They got to line often against Ball State, shooting 23 times. When this team ran the fast break, it didn’t fare well for the Cardinals. However, when Ball State was able to slow down the game to its pace, they simply outplayed Dayton. This team has a lot of depth in their three-point shooting so when they get those guys open, good things will happen.
- Taylor Persons is the captain of this ship, and for good reason. Watching him move players around to set screens or move other defenders was comforting, especially late in the game. It could have been alarming he didn’t get onto scoreboard until the second half, but his eight assists let you know that he was responsible for much more than the score column. His shot to put up Ball State late wasn’t a difficult one but that doesn’t make it any less important. On a team that doesn’t have very many true shot creators, his passing and leadership will be a big component to their success.
- Kyle Mallers is going to have some big expectations this season, and he struggled a bit in the opener. This is going to be a transition considering his large minutes uptick (he averaged 11 minutes last year and played 28 Friday). He had a few bad turnovers and had a hard time finding a good rhythm beyond the arc going 1-for-7. It’s the first game of the season in a tough road environment, so I wouldn’t read into it too much.
- If I had to pick a player of the game, it would probably be Tahjai Teague. The guy had a double-double Friday notching 14 points and 11 rebounds. His game wasn’t overly flashy Friday, and I don’t know if it will ever be that way. But he made some big impact plays at Dayton. He was active on the defensive end getting two blocks and a steal, a crucial one that was a part of the late Ball State run. He stepped in and answered the call with Trey Moses only playing 11 minutes. His one three pointer along, with his percentage from last year, has me intrigued to just how well he can shoot that shot.
- The Cardinals will play five of their first six games away from home. The opening stretch also includes road games at Oklahoma, Oregon, Bucknell and Indiana State. The only home game during that stretch comes Nov. 17 against Stony Brook.
Watch The Process
Formerly known as Out of the Shadows, the monthly show has now been transformed into a weekly series throughout the season called The Process, presented by Stoops Buick GMC.
The Process will still provide the same access to and feature storytelling on the team, but will expand to more stories surrounding the program and now deliver those in shorter, more consumable content on digital platforms each week.