By: Donnie Harmon
Ball State Sports Link
Ball State will look to get to .500 on Saturday, as the Cardinals, who currently sit at 2-3 on the young season, will square off with in-state opponent Indiana State. Tipoff is slated for 1 PM at Worthen Arena, as the Cardinals return home after playing three games in St. Petersburg for the Jersey Mike’s Classic.
After losing their top three scorers from last year to the transfer portal and graduating their fourth leading scorer, Ball State brought in three transfers and three freshmen to fill out the roster. So far it has been up and down for the Cardinals as they look to find an identity with the new faces in the mix, but they have shown flashes of being a very dangerous team despite their 2-3 record.
One reason the Cardinals can be dangerous is their shooting, as they have shot the ball from three point range at a 38.8% clip as team through their first five games, including a 9-of-16 mark in their last game, an 89 to 86 win over UMass, a team that beat Penn State by 25 earlier in the year. Ball State looked the most fluid they had all year against UMass, as all the pieces fit together for a nice, confidence building win.
On the win and Ball State’s recent play in general, coach Whitford said, “We’re getting a lot of assists collectively as a team, and I think it’s a sign of us really sharing the ball and playing together.”
One area of concern for the Cardinals is free throw shooting, where they have collectively shot just 64.5 percent on the year. However, they shot over 80 percent from the charity stripe in their last two games.
Indiana State enters at 3-3, with two of their losses coming to Purdue and Oklahoma. They are coached by first year head coach Josh Schertz, who made the move to Terre Haute from Division-II Lincoln Memorial, where he was a four time national coach of the year and led the Railsplitters to the second most wins in D-II in the 2010’s.
Despite having a proven coach, Indiana State was voted to finish second to last in the Missouri Valley Conference after a massive offseason roster change saw the Sycamores return just six players. To fill out the roster, coach Schertz brought three players with him from Lincoln Memorial, added two JUCO transfers, brought in Dearon Tucker from Oregon State, and signed two high school recruits.
Despite the turnaround, the Sycamores have played a clean style of ball early in the season, turning it over just 11.8 times per game. They have found good balance on offense as well, with three players averaging over 14 points per game. Something to note on the Sycamores is that they have had issues with depth early in the season, going just seven deep in their last loss to New Mexico State. Indiana State struggled shooting the ball in that game, as they shot just 25 percent from three, well below their already modest average of 32.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Players to Watch
Jalen Windham has been one of the breakout players in the early season for Ball State. After battling injuries throughout much of last season, the junior guard who started his career at Creighton has been a spark plug off of the bench for the Cardinals, averaging 11.6 PPG and scoring double figures in 4 of 5 games. He has also shot an outstanding 46.4 percent from three. Watch to see if his role increases throughout the season.
Another Cardinal to keep an eye on is Tyler Cochran. After leading Northern Illinois in scoring and rebounding last year, Cochran has filled the role of a physical guard for the Cardinals that was left open by the departures of Jarron Coleman and KJ Walton. Averaging 9 points and 5.2 rebounds through 5 games, he is coming off of a 22 point, eight rebound performance against UMASS. Look for his production to increase as he becomes more accustomed to playing with his new team and system.
The most impactful transfer for Indiana State so far has been Cameron Henry. After making the move from Lincoln Memorial to Indiana State with head coach Josh Schertz, Henry has averaged 15.8 PPG, second on the team, as well as a team leading 6.8 rebounds per game and 4.3 assists per game. The 6 foot 6 redshirt junior guard has been incredibly versatile and dynamic for the Sycamores.
With returning star Tyreke Key sidelined with an injury, returning junior guard Cooper Neese has stepped up, leading the team in scoring at 16 PPG. Neese, an Indiana all-star in high school who is 7th in the state in scoring all time, has helped ease some of the growing pains of a new staff.