MUNCIE, Ind. -- During a six-minute stretch in the second half of Ball State’s basketball game Tuesday, star Alabama A&M player Ladarius Tabb had his way with the Cardinals’ defense in general and, specifically, Ball State wing Franko House. Tabb fired in 15 consecutive points for the Bulldogs in that span ,with House guarding him most of the time, lifting A&M to an eight-point lead.
The final salvo in that flurry. . .
“He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, we’ve still got this. We’re good,’ ” Whitford said. “It was good to hear him say that. We just had to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, that was my point.
“But he answered the bell and we went to him every time down the stretch, and he scored or got fouled or had an assist.”
House was a rock for the Cardinals (8-4) in the final four minutes, including a smothering defensive effort on Tabb on the final play of the game, as he sparked them to a 63-62 victory in Worthen Arena.
Predictably, Tabb got the ball on the left wing as the final seconds ticked down. He drove to the basket with House hounding him all the way. When double-team help arrived as Tabb neared the lane, all he could do was uncork a shot that hit the side of the basket, and House rebounded the ball as the buzzer sounded.
The field-goal attempt was Tabb’s only one in the final 4:31 of the game.
House said his goal on the play was to push Tabb off the 3-point line.
“I wanted to force him to drive into my guys (inside) who had my back,” he said. “I anticipated a drive to the baseline and I stayed in front of him pretty well.”
Tabb, the Bulldogs’ season scoring leader with a 23.4 average and the preseason Southwestern Athletic Conference player of the year, finished with 29 points, making 12 of 17 shot attempts.
House did damage on offense, too. He scored seven of his 15 points in the final 7:45, including 5-for-6 at the free-throw line in the final 4:05.
Ball State claimed the victory on a night when it had trouble shooting from the perimeter. Alabama A&M (4-5) played a 2-3 zone for most of the first 30 minutes of the game, and Ball State finished just 6-of-27 from the arc.
The Cardinals were 4-of-19 overall and 1-for-10 from the 3-point line in the second half when the Bulldogs abandoned the zone and went man-to-man with about 9 minutes remaining.
That move probably benefited Ball State as it scored 18 points in the final 8 minutes, 40 seconds.
“Maybe in some respects, yes, but I didn’t feel we were lacking with our shot attempts,” Whitford said. “I’m not saying all 27 were great, but enough of them were pretty good.”
The Cardinals simply didn’t hit shots. Their four best shooters from the arc – Jeremie Tyler, Francis Kiapway, Sean Sellers and Ryan Weber, who Whitford said were “four guys I’d put in the category of elite college shooters” – combined to make just 6-of-23.
“We had the right looks from the right guys, and we didn’t have a good shooting night,” Whitford said.
Added Sellers, “We shot poorly from the 3-point line, but for the most part we got good looks.”
Ball State hit only 40.4 percent overall from the floor and shot a season-low 22.2 percent from the 3-point line. Alabama A&M helped offset that by making just 4-of-13 free throws.
Bo Calhoun led the Cardinals with 16 points (7-of-10 shooting) and nine rebounds. House added 15 and eight. Weber and Kiapway scored 10 points each, and Naiel Smith tied his season high with six assists.
The Cardinals will play their final non-conference game at 2 p.m. Thursday against Chicago State in Worthen Arena. The Cougars are coached by former Ball State assistant Tracy Dildy.
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)