Tuesday night at Northern Illinois, the Cardinals finally got one of those close games to go in their favor. Ball State snapped a four-game losing streak with a 72-71 win and did it on the backs of its three most veteran players.
Tayler Persons led the way with 29 points, made six 3’s and hit critical free throws in the final minute. Trey Moses scored a season-high 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Tahjai Teague logged a double-double of his own with 14 and 13.
“Where Tayler may have showed his greatest maturity is (that) when he really got going, he really stayed within himself down the stretch,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “He kept the ball flying around, and he had a really good feel. He stayed aggressive, and he did it in a way that didn’t take away from allowing those other guys to be good.”
Ball State (12-11, 3-7 MAC) saw Northern Illinois overcome an 11-point deficit, as the Huskies came back to grab the lead. But this game didn’t follow the script of recent BSU contests that saw the Cardinals lose five MAC games by a combined 16 points.
The Cardinals regrouped and scored seven straight points. Josh Thompson’s 3-pointer with 1:39 to play gave Ball State a 66-59 lead. However, Northern Illinois (12-11, 5-5 MAC) had one last spurt left in it. The Huskies rallied back to tie the game at 71 on a Eugene German layup with 3.3 seconds to go.
A critical play quickly followed. The Huskies, who had been in catch-up mode down the stretch, couldn’t get out of that mindset and committed a foul instead of letting the game play out. Persons hit the first free throw, missed the second on purpose, and a final NIU heave was off the mark.
German, the MAC's second-leading scorer, paced the Huskies’ late rally to finish with 17 points on the night but needed 18 shots to get there. K.J. Walton hounded him around just like he did to the league’s top scorer, Kent State’s Jaylin Walker, who was 5-for-26 three days ago.
“I thought our defense, especially in the first half, was outstanding,” Whitford said. “K.J. has had back-to-back great performances. It certainly wasn’t just him. It was also Trey and Tahjai playing big around the rim.”
Persons matched his previous season high of three 3-pointers in the first half alone and went on to match his career high with six. His final 3 of the night gave the Cardinals their 11-point lead at 45-34 with 12:34 to go before NIU rallied.
Moses went 7-for-9 from the floor and 8-for-11 from the foul line just days after sitting out against Kent State because of a sprained knee in the Buffalo game.
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)