“Today was the best win since I’ve been the head coach at Ball State,” Whitford said after his team’s third Mid-American Conference road win in its last four tries.
That’s saying something considering the Cardinals knocked off a Valparaiso team rated among the top 30 in the country earlier this season.
But Whitford was . . .
“Our culture was completely in place,” Whitford said. “We were diving on the floor for loose balls. The entire bench was up and into the game. That’s what good teams and programs have. Without it, we don’t get the win.”
Another big reason the Cardinals (14-8, 5-4 MAC) won the game was because they held Bowling Green (13-9, 4-5 MAC) to 4 for 22 shooting in the second half and outscored the Falcons 39-24 after the break.
Ball State trailed 47-33 with 15 minutes to play and had not made a shot in nearly 10 minutes. It didn’t look promising at that point, but a Ryan Weber 3-pointer took the lid off, and the Cardinals chipped away over the next 10 minutes.
Franko House tied the game at 62 with 3:44 to play, and Francis Kiapway scored the next bucket to give the Cardinals their first lead of the second half at the 3:05 mark. They never trailed again. Ball State held Bowling Green scoreless on its final five possessions and sealed the win at the free throw line.
“It didn’t look good for us for a long time,” Whitford said. “It felt like the game was slipping away, but we showed a real toughness and a real grit in hanging in there and fighting as hard as we did despite adversity. We won the game because our defense in the second half was incredible. I told the team in the locker room I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
House led Ball State with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Francis Kiapway also scored 16 points and hit four of the Cardinals’ 10 3-pointers. Nate Wells came off the bench to score nine points, grab four rebounds and notch two assists in 24 minutes, his most extensive action of the season.
All nine Cardinals who played in the game scored as Ball State posted season-best shooting percentages from the floor (.545) and the 3-point line (.532). After struggling to take care of the ball for the past three games, the Cardinals limited their turnovers to 12.
“If you defend, you rebound and you take care of the ball, you’re going to win 70 percent of your games; and then if your offense is clicking and you’re making shots, you’ll win more than that,” Whitford said.
“We got outrebounded badly tonight, which is a credit to Bowling Green, who is the best offensive rebounding team in the league. But we defended and took care of the ball, and that’s why we won.”
Zack Denny led Bowling Green with 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Wes Alcegaire added 12 points. Denny hit four 3-pointers, but the rest of the team combined for just two. After shooting 53.8 percent in the first half, the Falcons made only 18.2 percent in the second.
Western Michigan is at Ball State (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET)
Bowling Green is at Miami (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)