MUNCIE, Ind -- Ball State men’s basketball coach James Whitford flashed a wide smile on the sidelines Saturday, depicting his satisfaction as the final seconds of an 83-65 victory against Central Michigan ticked off the clock.
A moment later, the Cardinals’ second-year coach was speaking into a microphone at the free-throw line on the student end of the floor in Worthen Arena, enthusiastically thanking the fans in attendance for coming out and supporting his team. “Given the opportunity, I just wanted to thank the fans,” Whitford said. “They’ve been supportive through the good and the bad.
“It was a great crowd. I find myself at times trying to get the crowd louder and that helps make this a legitimate home-court advantage for us. The fans here love basketball … you can feel the community following the program.”
(CLICK READ MORE TO CONTINUE . . . )
“Last year we didn’t get many good crowds,” sophomore guard Zavier Turner said. “We only won five games, and I wouldn’t have come either.”
The Cardinals, who beat only three Division I programs last season, now are 7-6 overall this year with six Division I victories to their credit. Perhaps more important, players believe they’re getting to a point where they should be.
“We definitely have more team chemistry on and off the floor,” power forward Franko House said. “We just want to win. … Everybody was putting us at the bottom of the conference. We’re just trying to compete as hard as we can every game.
“It’s a big message to whoever it is on a certain night. We’re just going to come out and play as hard as we can on defense, and if we’re hitting shots, it’s going to be a good night for us.”
That was the formula against the Chippewas, whose six-game winning streak came to an end as they fell to 2-21 all-time in Worthen Arena.
Rayshawn Simmons paced CMU with 14 points and five boards. Chris Fowler was also in double figures with 13 points. Luke Meyer and Josh Kozinski each added nine points. The Chippewas connected on 44.9 percent from the field and 29.6 (9-of-27) from distance. They were 13-of-20 (65%) at the line
Ball State shot 60 percent from the field in the first half and finished at 55.6 percent for the game. The Cardinals made half of their 18 3-pointers.
“Being honest, I was worried about our ability to flow on offense,” Whitford said. “I wouldn’t have guessed we’d play that well on offense based on our day and half (of practice since the Eastern Michigan victory).”
Turner led the way with a game-high 21 points. Even more appealing to Whitford was Turner’s five assists to just two turnovers and three steals.
“That’s what we need from him,” Whitford said.
Turner had plenty of help. Jeremiah Davis delivered 14 points off the bench, House had 13, Sean Sellers 11 and Matt Kamieniecki 10 to go with 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
The Cardinals improved to 3-0 since Muncie Central product Jeremiah Davis began playing Jan. 3. He shot 6-for-11 from the field and had four assists, no turnovers, two steals and four rebounds.
“Tonight was the first night you looked at the stat sheet and said, ‘Hey, he’s a good player,’ ” Whitford said. “That’s a really impressive stat line. The other two games you would have looked at his stat line and not felt that way.
“But his presence for us is a big deal whether he’s playing well or not. He’s our team leader, he plays at a great pace … is a good defender, is completely unselfish, is all about the team. He’s absolutely a winner, and I love coaching him.”
The Cardinals will return to MAC play at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Western Michigan. Central Michigan hosts Miami Wednesday (7 p.m. ET)
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics/MRO Edit)