Today was a fun day to follow the Men's basketball team. I had a feeling in the preview that things we starting to come together... that the Akron loss presented an opportunity for BG to put 2 strong games together and get a road win in the MAC.
Ball State isn't a great team...and they aren't a bad team either. And it was on the road. There's still a long way to go, but the team that played out there today looked a lot different than the team that played, say, against Alabama A&M or during one of those stints where the starters all got benched.
BG got production from a number of different places and right now is looking a lot more competitive than we might have thought they would 3 weeks ago.
BG came out and had a 6 point lead about 7 minutes in. Then, Ball State went on a 10-0 run to go up 4. That's pretty much where it stayed until halftime--it was tied once more--but the Cardinals went into the locker room up 3.
In the 2nd half, BG took the lead with about 16 minutes and held it until the end of the game. That is the kind of thing you like to see...just a consistent second half effort that had some runs, but never to the point where BG gave the lead up. BG was up 12 midway through the half and up 10 with 5 minutes left.
By now, the major development in the game had occurred, which was that BG's PG Ish Ali had fouled out. He picked up his 4th and then lost his cool in a resulting frakas and picked up a T and that was it.
So, BG played the last 6 minutes with Caldwell at point. He has played extended minutes and he did a great job in this game...Coach praised him after the game for his play on both ends of the floor during the game's closing stretch.
Anyway, BSU combined baskets on 3 straight possessions with 3 straight stops and the lead was down to 3 with 4:05 left. BG had one of those 1-minute possessions due to offensive rebounds, which killed clock but was ultimately not productive.
Ball State scored with 2 minutes left to cut the lead to 1. At this point, the Falcons had to be having a sense of deja vu after similar occurrences throughout the year.
Except this time was different. And mostly, Antwon Lillard was different. With 1:47 Lillard hit a layup to put BG up 3. BG got more or less 2 stops in a row due to a turnover. One of those was a blocked shot by Lillard. BSU carved the lead to 1 with about :30 left, but Lillard came back one more time with a layup and BG was up 3 with :25 left.
Even so, BSU had the ball and plenty of time to either tie the game or put the pressure onto BG with a 2-pointer. They missed a shot, got the board and then lined up for a 3FG with :12 left when Zack Denny just made a huge play, blocking the shot without fouling. The blocked shot went OB and Ball State got one more wild 3FG off and Denny rebounded the miss, they fouled him, he sunk both FTs and it was over.
So, no deja vu. This time, BG closed the door. They also ended up with a much more complete effort than we have seen in previous games.
BG had 1.06 points per possession in a 72-possession game. That's an average tempo and a good offensive performance. The key was on defense...BG allowed Ball State, a pretty good offensive team, only .99 points per possession, which is a total that is tough to win with.
This came from BG performing better in 3 of the 4 areas. BG set itself apart with 3FG defense. They held BSU to 16% from 3FG, by far their lowest total of the year. They made 4 and have not won with fewer than 7 this year. BG shot 46% and 36% and ended up with a better shooting day overall.
BG also took care of the ball better than Ball State. Finally, BG had the big advantage at the free throw line. The teams had the same number of fouls, but BG shot 19 of 26 from the line and the Cardinals were 11 of 15, leaving BG +8 at the line.
It is a good thing they had those 3 advantages, because for as well as BG did on the 3FG and turnovers and free throws, they had a dreadful day keeping Ball State off the offensive boards. In fact, BSU got more than half of the available rebounds, which is BG's worst game since CMU in 2012.
Individually, BG had a few strong performances, which makes it much easier to win.
Zack Denny had a big game. There was a time when he was mostly known as a long distance shooter, but today he showed a really complete game. He scored 15 points and tried only 2 treys, missing them both. However, he was 5 of 11 shooting overall, therefore 5 of 9 from 2FG to go with 5 of 6 FTs, 8 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 4 steals and 2 assists. In the last minute he had a block and nailed 2 FTs. He reminded me of Scott Thomas out there.
Antwon Lillard also had a big game. He has been in a little bit of a sophomore slump this year. Going into the Akron game he hadn't been in double figures for six games and had been only in double figure 3 times all year. In Muncie, he had 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting, 1-2 from 3 FG, 4-6 from the line along with 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
Demajeo Wiggins also played well. He scored 17 points on 6 of 11 shooting and 5-5 from the line. He also had 8 rebounds.
And, while it didn't generate a lot of numbers, Rodrick Caldwell deserves credit for running the offense with a steady hand after Ali fouled out. He ended with 8 points, 1 assist and only 1 turnover.
So, BG is 1-1 with a road win in the MAC. They have their next 2 at home and if they can continue to play well are in a position to get a good start. There's a long way to go and I'd advise enjoying this with nuanced expectations as we move forward, but I do believe things are trending up for the program.
After a lot of close losses, BG exceeded expectations today, and there's nothing wrong with that.