(BALL STATE RELEASE)
DeKALB, Ill. – Grit and resilience. They’re needed for any road league win, and the Ball State men’s basketball team has shown those traits twice in one week. Down by as many as 10 points in the first half, the Cardinals blitzed the home team Northern Illinois in overtime to win 79-70 on Tuesday night. The Cardinals dominated the extra period, growing the lead to 12 en route to a 1-0 start in league play.
The win came just three days after a clutch 68-66 win over UIC at Worthen Arena on Saturday.
Leading scorers K.J. Walton and Ishmael El-Amin each scored 18 points, combining for 9-for-12 foul shooting and 19 second-half points. Head coach James Whitford credited El-Amin for a “calming presence” on offense as the Cards rallied from a double-digit and 34-28 halftime deficit.
TURNING POINT: With the game tied and regulation winding down, Ball State got the needed stop and then put the game away early in overtime. With the score 63-63 at the the end of regulation, Thomas and El-Amin sank 3-pointers to put BSU up six and the Cards didn’t look back. Soon after, buckets by Brachen Hazen and El-Amin put the Cards up a dozen and the cruised to an important road win. Hazen scored nine points and added a team-best nine rebounds.
CLUTCH COMEBACK: NIU at several points led by double figures and the home team led 34-28 at half. Ball State quickly erased the deficit, despite shooting .280 in the first half. The Cardinals got back in the game for good when starting forward Miryne Thomas hit a 3-pointer with 16:03 left in the game.
STRAIGHT FROM THE HEAD COACH: “I thought it was a good game. We really struggled early offensively. We didn’t get great shots, but we were taking solid ones. We were struggling to get them to go down. In the second half, we were patient and got better ones … I thought it was a really resilient win. We had a lot of contributions. I thought the bench was really into the game, and it was a real team win. That’s two games in a row for us that we really played with some composure down the stretch. Ish had a real calming presence for us in both games.”
WE TOOK THEIR BEST PUNCH: After watching Northern Illinois play three times, Whitford thought the opponent’s effort against the Cardinals was the best of the season. Northern Illinois is a tough team that went 11-7 in league play last year but fell to 0-4 with the Cards’ victory.
LONG-TERM LEAGUE OPPORTUNITY: Tuesday’s league opener was the earliest start of league play for BSU since the 1979-80 season. And with fewer games on the schedule, Whitford says the importance of every conference game has never been higher. The coach said the opportunity to be 2-0 with two road wins in league play before the end of the calendar year is paramount. “The two most important games on our schedule are tonight and at Western Michigan,” Whitford said.
UP NEXT: Ball State has a solid non-conference opportunity Saturday evening when Illinois State comes to town. The game is at 7 p.m. ET, allowing Cards fans to also follow Ball State’s football game vs. Western Michigan at noon. For the latest on Ball State hoops, fans can follow @BallStateMBB on Twitter and Instagram.