Ball State was protecting a four-point lead midway through the second half Tuesday when IUPUI forward Evan Hall drove to the basket.
Just as Hall reached his destination at the rim, Cardinals center Trey Moses did what is starting to become common. He reached up with his long arms and swatted the ball back at Hall.
Moses is giving Ball State a defensive presence in the low post that it hasn’t had in a while. His effort on defense, combined with an overall grittiness displayed by his teammates, led the bCardinals to a grind-it-out 61-58 victory over IUPUI in Worthen Arena.
“He did a good job with that as far as challenging shots and making us alter some shots. He did a good job defensively.”
Moses blocked four shots against IUPUI, leading Ball State to a season-high 10 rejections. He blocked three in Saturday’s home victory against Valparaiso.
“He really helps our team on defense,” Cardinals coach James Whitford said. “He gets blocked shots against good players. He gets them up on the square (of the backboard), like the real ones, not blocking it when the ball barely gets up there.
“He impacts the game defensively. He makes everybody better because if one guy gets beat, he comes over and makes a hard play on the ball.”
Blocking shots is nothing new for the 6-foot-9 freshman. With a lanky frame and long reach, he overpowered shooters inside during his prep career at Eastern High School in Louisville.
Blocking shots in high school didn’t require as much timing as it does at the collegiate level. Moses said he is learning to make adjustments in that area with the Cardinals.
“I’m really focused on getting stronger, jumping higher and getting off the floor a little quicker, which has really helped me in college,” said Moses, who added 10 points and five rebounds. “My ability to time shots is still there, and I can jump higher and quicker now, so that’s helped me.”
It also has helped Ball State’s overall performance on defense. Other players on the floor know that if the player they’re guarding gets loose on a drive, he will have to deal with Moses when he gets near the rim.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost on defense and gives us the freedom to go out and pressure the ball more,” Cardinals forward Ryan Weber said.
The Cardinals (6-2) needed Moses and the rest of their roster to come through on defense to beat the Jaguars (2-6).
Ball State’s offense sputtered much of the game. It shot just 42.6 percent from the field while committing 15 turnovers. The Cardinals also made just 7-of-15 free throws.
After playing a solid up-tempo game and excelling in transition three days earlier in a victory at home against Valparaiso, they needed to hunker down on defense against the Jaguars.
“I feel our team has the right pieces to adapt to a lot of different styles of play,” Weber said. “Offensively, we thrive in transition, but we can also grind it out in the half court, especially defensively.”
Ball State held IUPUI to 38.7 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers.
When the Cardinals let a nine-point lead with 3:44 remaining in the game slip to two points with 1:41 left, they relied on their defense to pull them through for the victory.
“Despite some crazy turnovers, we really defended well in some key moments, and that was the difference in the game,” Whitford said. “… We made some crazy decisions in transition, and that’s not what I want.”
Ball State shot 87.8 percent at the free-throw line in the final four minutes in its previous four games. Against IUPUI, the Cardinals hit only 46.7 percent for the game, and went 5-for-11 in the final four minutes.
“We were shooting (72.8) percent for the year, and for whatever reason we make them all or miss them all,” Whitford said. “But we’re a good free-throw shooting team. I don’t think that will be a problem for us long term.”
Francis Kiapway, who was 4-for-4 at the line in the final 11 seconds, led the Cardinals with 13 points. Weber had 12 of 4-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line. Bo Calhoun had a game-high eight rebounds, and Naiel Smith led with four assists.
The game represented a homecoming for Central High School product Nick Osborne. The junior forward scored six of his eight points in a 2:35 late in the first half for IUPUI. He also had a team-high seven rebounds.
“It was fun to be home and play in front of everybody,” Osborne said.
Darell Combs led the Jaguars with 22 points.
Ball State’s victory was its fifth in a row, a streak matched or surpassed only four other times since the 2002-03 season.
The Cardinals will play host to New Orleans at 2 p.m. Saturday in Worthen Arena.