MUNCIE, Ind. -- There was no hesitation on this day for Ball State forward Sean Sellers.
The 2015 Mid-American Conference men’s basketball freshman of the year has endured something of a topsy-turvy sophomore season. His role off the bench was diminished early in the season, and then an injury sidelined him the first two games of the Mid-American Conference slate.
There have been ups and downs throughout the season. But signs that the confidence and swagger have come back exploded to the forefront Saturday when Sellers played a pivotal role in the Cardinals crushing of Eastern Michigan 115-79 in Worthen Arena.
“He has really . . .
Sellers established a career-high seven 3-point baskets on 11 attempts and tied the career-best 26 points he scored in his first game in a Cardinal uniform in 2014 at Utah.
Sellers had no limit on his range against the Eagles (15-14, 7-9 MAC West). He banged in a 28-foot shot from the right wing with 5:58 left in the game, showing an outward confidence that at times wasn’t apparent during the season.
“It felt good,” he said of the extra deep three. “Some of the shots I made didn’t feel as good. … I just tried to keep shooting and not get too high or low. If I’m open, I’m going to shoot it. I just try to make things as simple as possible.”
Whitford said the early stages of this season were difficult for Sellers. With an influx of depth this year, Sellers’ time on the court dipped.
“I think it was hard, but every player who has ever played the game has to go thru it,” Whitford said. “Every player at some level. Maybe Michael Jordan (didn’t) … but everyone has to go through it at some point.
“And I want to create an environment where, quite frankly, they feel that pressure and have to get through that pressure. That’s how you grow as a player. Sean has emerged out of it in a really good place.”
Whitford said Sellers dedicated himself to accepting his new role and making the most of his opportunities. The coach said Sellers never felt sorry for himself.
Sellers’ shot is coming back, and his defense has dramatically improved, to the point where he was able to guard Eastern Michigan shooting guard Raven Lee for significant stretches. Lee, a top 10 scorer in the MAC, was 5-for-12 from the field and missed all four of his 3-point attempts.
“For Sean to develop that far, where he’s a guy we’re comfortable playing at (shooting guard) against one of the league’s best 2-guards is a credit to how far he’s come,” Whitford said. “This game was a product of him doing the right things for a couple of months now.”
Ball State (19-10, 10-6 MAC West) did a lot of things right in maintaining its standing as the top team in the division.
The 115 points tied for the most the Cardinals have ever scored against a Division I opponent, tying for the fifth-highest single-game total in school history. The record is 123 against Franklin in 1965.
They broke the school record for most 3-point field goals (18) and most 3-point attempts (39) in a game. Their 30 assists tied for the fifth-best total in school history.
Francis Kiapway and Jeremie Tyler backed up Sellers from the perimeter by combining to make 7-of-18 3-point shots.
Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 half-court zone defense couldn’t contain the Cardinals shooters from well beyond the 3-point arc. The Eagles, who were assessed five technical fouls, cover the high post with their two guards out front in the zone, and they are capable of getting to the 3-point line.
But they weren’t capable of getting out as far as Ball State was shooting the ball.
“They really can’t get to 22 or 23 feet, and we have some guys who can shoot that shot,” Whitford said. “When we made them, it loosened Eastern’s defense up.”
And Ball State’s inside players took advantage.
Forward Franko House scored a career-high 20 points by making 7-of-8 field goals. He also grabbed 10 rebounds (five on offense) for his second double-double of the season, and had five assists.
Forward Bo Calhoun made 6-of-9 shots and scored 15 points while collecting nine boards. He also had five offensive rebounds. Center Trey Moses made all five of his shots for 13 points.
House noted the Cardinals’ ability to hit 3-pointers is huge because of the space it creates inside for the bigs.
“We have a lot of good one-on-one post players,” he said. “When you have shooters around us it encourages us to be aggressive at the basket. If there’s a double (team) we can kick it out because we know we have good shooters.”
Ball State crushed Eastern Michigan on the boards, 47-30. The total was a season best, and its 17 offensive rebounds were the second-highest total of the year.
“A lot of times when we do lose games, we get hurt on the glass,” House said. “That was one thing we wanted to focus on because that will help us win games down the stretch.”
Ball State was on fire to start the game, leading 14-0 in the first four minutes. That led to a 61-41 lead at halftime, the most points in a half against a Division I foe since the Cardinals scored 67 in the second half against Eastern Michigan in 1997.
The Cardinals topped the century mark on Sellers’ 3-point basket with 4:44 left in the game. They hadn’t scored 100 points against a Division I team since falling 105-104 in overtime in 2003 versus Akron.
“We played our best game of the year,” Whitford said. “We were outstanding. “We came out and played with great focus. … We were able to keep it going for 40 minutes, and that was a surprise to everyone, including me.”
Ball State put six players in double figures for the first time since 2009. Joining Sellers, House and Calhoun were Tyler and Moses with 13 each, and Kiapway with 12.
Central Michigan at Ball State (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)
Northern Illinois at Eastern Michigan (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)