Do not be fooled by the final score; it is very misleading. The scoreboard says No. 16 Arizona 73, Ball State 63 but the game was much, much closer than that. Ball State was leading at every television timeout up until the four-minute mark in the second half, and only trailed by one at that juncture.
It was fun game to watch for about 32 minutes. If you would've said before the game Ball State would lead at every TV timeout till the four-minute mark in the second half, most Cardinals fans would've been thrilled with that. But seeing how it played out in the final 20 minutes was not pretty. As teams like Arizona are wont to do against teams from the smaller Division I conferences, the Wildcats didn't fully raise their level of play until the odds were stacked against them.
And when that happened, Ball State's offense was in trouble.
Ball State's offense really struggled in the second half. They scored 25 points in the second half, but only had 17 with 2:18 to go and the game out of reach. That, unfortunately, has been a familiar sight during the Billy Taylor era. Arizona's defensive pressure was too much for Ball State to overcome. On the bright side, there is not a team on Ball State's schedule that plays defense like that.
The Cardinals could not hit a shot to save their lives in the second half. Ball State, after hitting seven shots from 3-point land in the first half, only nailed two in the second half. The Cardinals will have to be much more consistent, but then again, most teams won't have the defensive presence to prevent Jarrod Jones from getting the ball where he wants it in the post.
However, "shut down Jarrod Jones" is not the appropriate phrase here because Jones was lights-out UNSTOPPABLE Sunday in leading all scorers with 25 points on 11 of 15 shooting. The oddest thing about this stat line is that Jones hit THREE 3-pointers in the game. For some context, Jones was 0-for-12 lifetime before Sunday.
If this Jarrod Jones shows up for every game this season, the Mid-American Conference is in huge, huge trouble.
This almost validates everything my mind and research said about the potential of this Cardinal basketball team. Sure, Arizona is going through a bit of a rebuilding phase, and they were without Josiah Turner but this is Arizona, after all. An Arizona team that was ranked 16th in the nation, a game in which Ball State did not look all that overmatched in any facet of the game.
I think this says more about how good Ball State is than it does how much Arizona may struggle. Wildcat fans may spin it different, but there's a ton of talent on this team. Jauwan Scaife scored 14 points and Jesse Berry 11 off the bench (like I said in the season preview, he'll be in the starting lineup sooner before later). The rest of the lineup will find some consistency.
Defensively, there are no complaints about the way the Cardinals played. They held Arizona to 39 percent shooting and put the team in a position the win. Free-throw shooting, however, is another matter; 6 of 13 from the charity stripe isn't going to get it done.
Indiana State is up next on Friday. While Indiana State did go to the NCAA Tournament last year, this is a game Ball State should win. If the Cardinals lose, it'll be a step backward from what was accomplished Sunday.