BY MASON PLUMMER | Lead Writer | Ball State Sports Link
Coming off of an impressive 2019-20 campaign that ended abruptly with the Cardinals finishing 18-13 (11-7 MAC), Ball State men’s basketball returns to to the hardwood hungry for more.
The 100th season of BSU basketball starts at Northern Kentucky, which went 23-9 and edged the Cardinals, 59-57, last year. Wednesday’s tip is at 6 p.m. EST and on ESPN 3.
It’s the first of five current non-conference games for Ball State, which returns three starters from last year’s team that won the Mid-American Conference West Division under eight-year head coach James Whitford.
“We have a lot of guys returning and you can see the experience on the court,” Whitford said. “We also had some young guys play huge roles for us last year and that stands out.”
Senior guard Ishmael El-Amin highlights an experienced Ball State squad that can do real damage in the MAC and beyond this season.
In the frontcourt, Zach Gunn, Miryne Thomas and Brachen Hazen have logged considerable minutes and Kani Acree emerged as a reliable rotation player late last season.
Ben Hendriks and Blake Huggins are also expected to see bigger roles this season.
“I’m excited to play,” Whitford said. “I’ve been on edge to make sure we stay safe and we’re able to do this the right way. It’s certainly a great feeling to be able to play and practice. I like our team and we have a chance to be good.”
El-Amin gave some thought to potentially transferring away from Ball State but elected to stay and finish where he started.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder out of Minneapolis was an All-MAC Third Team selection last season, averaging 13.8 points, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
This month, he was named to the Preseason All-MAC Second Team as many are taking note of El-Amin’s impressive game.
His 77 made 3-pointers last season ranked third on BSU’s single-season chart behind only Chris Williams (90) and Patrick Jackson (77) . El-Amin scored in double figures 24 times and reached the 20-point mark 4 times.
El-Amin is one of nine returning letterwinners for Ball State in 2020, as well as a two transfer players who will be immediately eligible to play for the Cardinals.
Jalen Windham and Reggie Jones chose Ball State in the offseason, but it was unclear as to whether or not either would be able to play this season due to the NCAA’s rule about student-athletes transferring.
Windham, a 6-foot-5 forward from Indianapolis will be an immediate contributor to the offense as he adds impressive range to a team that can use a consistent three-point shooter.
“Jalen is a great fit for our program both on the court and off,” Whitford said. “He’s worked very hard since his arrival and his availability is a much needed boost to our team.”
Windham played at Creighton last season, where he appeared in 16 games for the Big East champions.
Jones, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward/center from Tulsa brings a wealth of experience and size to a BSU team in need of height.
This is the third team for Jones in his college career thus far as he started at MAC foe Western Michigan, before moving to Tulsa.
Jones played in 26 games last year for a solid Tulsa squad that won 21 games. He was an all-state player in Indiana and state champion at Marion where he was rated among the state’s top 10 recruits in the 2016 class by ESPN.
Sophomore guard Luke Bumbalough and senior forward Brachen Hazen also return for Ball State.
Bumbalough locked down the guard position and never looked back as he was a consistent threat on offense and a pest for the opposition on defense.
A year ago, he led all MAC freshmen in minutes played during conference play (519 total, 28.9 per game), while his 56 3-pointers for the year led all rookies in the league and ranked third on BSU’s all-time freshman 3-point field goal list.
Bumbalough averaged 7.0 points per game and reached double figures nine times.
Hazen appeared in 30 games off the bench, missing just one to injury. He averaged 4.0 points and 3.8 rebounds, plus ranked second on the team with 14 blocked shots.
The Cardinals also return 2020 MAC Freshman of the Year Jarron Coleman in the backcourt, though he will miss Wednesday’s opener due to a foot injury.
Coleman started the final 23 games of the season and ranked first among MAC freshmen during conference play in scoring (10.2), rebounding (5.4) and assists (3.2).
Whitford expects his defense to pick up where it left off a year ago, too. Ball State allowed just 62.5 points per game and allowed .401 field goal shooting, both seven-year bests under Whitford.
With COVID-19 surging across the United States and around the world, as expected, the 2020 Ball State basketball season will look very different.
There will be no tickets available for the public to purchase to attend men’s or women’s basketball games and the MAC has decided on a 20-game conference slate.
Ball State added five non-conference tips for the season, including an enticing matchup at Michigan Dec. 2.
The Cardinals will have 12 home games this season including home-and-away matchups with every conference opponent except for Miami and Kent State.
Find the full Ball State men’s basketball schedule, here.