MUNCIE, Ind. -- If nothing else, Ball State is showing it can win men’s basketball games with different attributes and styles.
The Cardinals have shown the ability to win games at times this year with efficient transition offense, effective 3-point shooting, strong free-throw shooting, aggressive rebounding, and lock-down defense.
With their offense struggling Saturday to find rhythm against New Orleans, the Cardinals turned to their grit and gutty attitude on defense to claim a benchmark 66-52 victory in Worthen Arena.
The triumph was the sixth . .
They accomplished this win with a want-to attitude on defense, helping them lead the final 33 minutes of the game.
“The thing I was proud of today was we didn’t play on offense as well as we’d like – we weren’t firing on all cylinders on that side of the ball – but we won the game because we were outstanding on defense, especially when it mattered most,” Cardinals coach James Whitford said. “(New Orleans) had a really tough time scoring.
“If you’re good on that side of the ball, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
The Cardinals held the Privateers (2-5) to 34.5 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from the 3-point line, the lowest numbers against Ball State in the past seven games.
Ball State also logged 10 steals for the second consecutive game, with Bo Calhoun tying his career high with three.
“(Defense) is something I want to be the staple of our program, being really committed on that end of the (floor) and trying to become a great man-to-man defensive team,” Whitford said. “That has to be our identity. It’s starting to form, and we’re assembling that kind of pride with our defensive game.”
Junior forward Franko House said the Cardinals have so many different players who can specialize in different things, that it’s a big help.
“Between the versatility of all of us, we can mix it up and change our game on the fly,” said House, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. “That’s a strength of ours, especially playing a team like (New Orleans) that can pressure you.
“We’re definitely emphasizing defense; that’s a big thing for us. We try to get a lot of focus on defense and transition in the offense. We’re a fast team, a mobile team.”
The Cardinals’ depth has been a plus throughout the win streak, and it was again against the Privateers.
Point guard Jeremiah Davis scored a game-high 13 points, hitting 6-of-7 field goals. Jeremie Tyler made 3-of-6 shots from the 3-point line on the way to 11 points. Both of their point totals were season highs.
Whitford was glad to see Tyler come alive after working hard to regain his rhythm on shots.
“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t shooting well,” Tyler said. “I’ve been getting more reps up since then. This game, I focused in on knocking down shots.
“I knew we weren’t getting the offense run (in rhythm), so every time I felt I had a shot I took it, and I was lucky to hit some.”
Ball State had a 32-17 scoring advantage in bench points, a margin that essentially was the difference in the final score.
“(Tyler) is a shooter and scorer who can come in and knock down shots,” House said. “We have a lot of guys who can come off the bench and score for us. Other than that, the main thing they’re doing is bringing like a second energy level and second legs. When guys get tired, there’s not a big dropoff.”
That was key as Tyler and Davis picked up the scoring slack on an off day for leading scorer Ryan Weber. He was scoreless until 7:46 remained in the game, then scored all seven of his points in a span of 69 seconds.
That pointed out the versatility the Cardinals have this year and the way they can rely on multiple aspects to contend for victories.
“Ryan, truth be told, wasn’t playing well on either side of the ball,” Whitford said. “Ryan is a talented player, but he doesn’t always practice consistently. I’m calling it like it is.
“That’s his greatest challenge: finding that intensity to bring it every day. For the seat of the bus that we put Ryan in, that’s what we need him to be. He needs to not just play more consistently – I’m not worried about that – Ryan has to practice more consistently for both him and our team.”
The Cardinals had a 37-33 rebound advantage, as Calhoun dragged down 12, one shy of his career best. House added eight and Trey Moses had five. Calhoun also tied his career best with two blocked shots.
Christavious Gill was the only New Orleans player to score in double figures. The Privateers’ season leader hit his average with 12 points.
The Cardinals will try for a seventh consecutive victory at 1 p.m. next Saturday at home against Pepperdine. The Waves were 3-4 going into Saturday’s game at Cal State Northridge.