Davis, who was sidelined for the first 10 games with a foot injury, was especially upbeat and encouraging toward teammates after getting on the Worthen Arena court. The former Muncie Central star’s presence, particularly as a leader, was one of the key factors in helping Ball State overcome a rough performance to beat Bethune-Cookman, 51-48.
“He’s one of the guys who in tough situations helps the team stay together,” said wing Sean Sellers, who led the Cardinals (5-6) with 12 points.
That was evident in the late stages of the game when Davis took over the point guard reigns and played the rest of the way.
Davis, who spent two-plus seasons at the University of Cincinnati before transferring to Ball State a year ago, had a modest box score line with two points and three rebounds. But his defense was essential (he had two steals in the second half) in helping the Cardinals erase a 13-point deficit.
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“From a leadership standpoint, he was exceptional,” Cardinals coach James Whitford said. “He huddled guys up, his body language was right, he played to win, and he had good communication. That’s why I played him down the stretch.”
Davis logged 17 minutes in the game, a number that exceeded Whitford’s plan, considering his recent return to the court. Davis has been doing basketball skill workouts for only 10 days and had 20-30 minutes of competitive contact in practice coming into the game.
But his leadership led to his extended time on the court. He received 15 of 15 votes from teammates when he was selected as one of three team captains this season.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and you have to be pretty special … the guy had never played for us and he had only been on the team for five months,” Whitford said. “That spoke volumes about the way (teammates) think of him.”
The Cardinals had to transfer Davis’ leadership skills into plays on the court in order to erase a lead that Bethune-Cookman (3-11) held for most of the game’s first 34 minutes.
Sellers, a 59 percent shooter from the 3-point line who missed his first five shots from the arc, connected on his only deep ball with 5:27 to play to lift the Cardinals into a 45-45 tie.
A minute later, Franko House made two free throws to give the Cardinals the lead for good at 47-46.
Ball State didn’t make a field goal in the final 5 minutes (it was 0-for-4 in that span), but House was 6-for-6 at the line in that stretch to keep the Cardinals in the lead. His last two free throws bumped the lead to 51-48 with 3.8 seconds to go.
“He made six free throws, which shows incredible poise and confidence,” Whitford said.
Had Bethune-Cookman taken the lead when it had the ball with 10.7 seconds left instead of turning it over, the Cardinals were prepared to go to House inside for a final shot.
“Despite him only having one field goal, that shows the confidence we have in him,” Whitford said.
The game served as the final tune-up for the Cardinals before they open Mid-American Conference action Wednesday night at Eastern Michigan.
The Cardinals are still looking to smooth out several areas, including finding a dependable playing rotation, but Whitford sees progress with external and internal values.
Externally, they have matched last year’s win total at five, something Whitford called “a step in the right direction.”
Internally, he said there’s hope in what he sees every day in practice.
“Our culture unequivocally is better right now than a year ago,” Whitford said. “Looking at the talent pool – and a number of guys are sitting out right now – it’s better. I feel like the guys we’re recruiting are significantly better.
“Internally, I’m tremendously confident we’re moving in the right direction. I feel like we’ll start picking up speed.”
(Courtesy Doug Zaleski/BSU)