MUNCIE, Ind. -- If strong fundamentals count for anything in basketball – and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone to dispute that – the Ball State Cardinals have shown so far this season that they are capable of playing with that kind of discipline.
The Cardinals gave a sound performance in several areas Wednesday night in Worthen Arena when they beat IU Kokomo 90-54 for their third straight victory.
They ran their way into good shots to hit 51.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line.
They also made a season-low seven turnovers and dished out a season-best 23 assists. It was a quality effort, indeed, for a team that last season tied for seventh in the Mid-American Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“Most definitely it was fun; it’s a style of play our guys are used to,” first-year Cardinal Ryan Weber, a transfer from Youngstown State, said of the up tempo attack. “We have the players to do it, and we’re deep enough where if players get gassed, we can sub and keep going.
“We have a lot of guys who thrive in transition and make smart plays and good decisions. We also have mobile bigs like Franko (House) and Bo (Calhoun) who can get out and run. I just feel like it really plays into the players we have.”
Point guard Jeremiah Davis sparked the transition game off the bench by dealing a career-high eight assists while committing just two turnovers in 23 minutes.
He also added 11 points while shaking a shooting slump by making 4-of-6 field goals.
“Whatever my team and coach need from me is what I have to do,” Davis said.
Whitford liked the way the game flowed in transition. He said this year’s team is much better in two areas – playing man defense and turning defense into instant offense.
“We’re a deep team … and we can come at you in waves,” Whitford said. “If you’re not a team that can play as many guys as us, we want to be able to wear you out over the course of 40 minutes by having a good transition game and being great defensively.
“We have the depth we want to have. These guys are really buying in to how this can help us. It’s going to create easy shots for all of us if we can do it well.”
The Cardinals ran to a 44-26 halftime lead after a slow start on defense the first four minutes. They led by 33 points with 12:06 to play in the second half, and increased the margin to as many as 39 late in the game.
Ball State’s numbers stacked up well in many areas against the overmatched Cougars (0-5). The Cardinals posted season highs in field-goal percentage (.517), 3-point field-goal percentage (.500) and free-throw percentage (.864).
Eleven players found the scoring column, with Franko House leading the way with 16 points. Bo Calhoun added 14, Weber had 13 (a team-high seven rebounds) and Davis added 11. Francis Kiapway had a career-best four steals and Jeremie Tyler tied his career best with three steals.
The 23 assists by the Cardinals continued a trend that started last week in the @EKUHoops Classic. Ball State has 73 assists on 106 made field goals in its past four games.
“I feel like it’s a really good trait that our team possesses, especially with the offensive players we have,” Weber said. “There are a lot of guys who can knock down shots, and if we can get them open … the majority of us thrive and play off each other.
“The way we’ve hit the open man really plays into our offense. It’s the way we’re comfortable playing, and (the way we) should play for the majority of this season.”
Ball State will play the second of five consecutive home games at 2 p.m. Saturday when it takes on Valparaiso in Worthen Arena.
Whitford looks at it as an opportunity for the Cardinals to challenge themselves against a team worthy of playing in the postseason.
The Crusaders are 6-1, with a six-point win at Oregon State to their credit. Valpo’s only loss was 73-67 at Oregon.
“It’s not easy to get teams of their caliber to come in here,” Whitford said. “This is a great opportunity for us. It’s something our guys should be really excited about.”