By: Adam Altobella
The date is December 21, 1989. Fans file into the friendly confines of Irving Gymnasium for a non-conference matchup against Cardinal Stritch University. Paris McCurdy, Chandler Thompson, Curtis Kidd, and other budding Cardinal stars take the floor against their non-Division I opponent. Led by Head Coach Dick Hunsaker, the Cardinals dominate on both ends of the floor, leading to a resounding 116-52 victory.
With their 64 point triumph, the 1989-1990 squad, who later advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, set a record for the largest margin of victory in program history. This record stood until last night (November 7, 2022), when Michael Lewis’s new-look Cardinals outscored the Earlham College Quakers 109-39 in a 70 point annihilation.
The 2022-2023 Cardinals now pace the program’s record books for the largest margin of victory, but this was not the only notable statistic of last night’s exciting season opener.
Conceding just 39 points to their opponents, the Cardinals gave up the fewest points in a season opener since 1945, when the Pete Phillips-led squad also saw their opponents score 39. Further, 39 points is fewer than any opponent scored during the James Whitford era.
With 10 rejections, the squad is now tied for the fifth most blocks in a game in program history. Payton Sparks, Demarius Jacobs, and Mickey Pearson all led the team in this department with two blocks each.
With a crowd of 3,445 passionate Cardinal fans anchoring Worthen Arena, this contest against Earlham was the highest attended home opener since 2018. Not only was the crowd greater in size, it was noticeably greater in noise, with a boisterous student section on hand.
Finally, last night’s victory not only gave Michael Lewis his first win at Ball State, but also as a Division I head coach.
As indicated by the score and by the plethora of statistics, the Cardinals’ season opener was successful, to put it mildly.
Ball State imposed its will early, playing a high-octane game on both ends of the court, and exploiting its height advantage. On the heels of a 16-0 burst mid-way through the first half, the Cardinals cruised into the locker room with a commanding 55-19 lead at halftime.
Even without starters Payton Sparks, Jarron Coleman, and Demarius Jacobs for the majority of the second half, the Cardinals continued their success. Outscoring the Division III Earlham squad 54-20 in the second half, Ball State soared to a 109-39 win.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cardinals moved the ball with exceptional unselfishness, converted on its numerous fast break opportunities, and focused on attacking the basket. This offensive prowess is reflected in the team’s 23/10 assist-to-turnover ratio, 32 free throw attempts, and 61% shooting clip from the field.
The only weak point in the Cardinals’ offensive attack was its three point shooting performance, as the squad only converted on 4 of its 17 attempts from deep. With those attempts excluded from the overall field goal percentage, the squad made 74% of its shots from within the arc.
As previously alluded to, Ball State also put forth a strong defensive effort, which is an area of emphasis in Coach Lewis’s system. The squad blocked 10 shots and snatched 14 steals. The team’s active hands on defense led to 35 points scored off Earlham turnovers.
In addition to the team’s success on the offensive and defensive ends, the Cardinals had an impressive performance on the boards. Boxing out well and using its height to its advantage, Ball State outrebounded Earlham 53 to 30. Of the team’s 53 rebounds, 15 of them were offensive rebounds.
Ball State played 40 minutes of team basketball, but a few individual players especially shined under the opening night lights of Worthen Arena.
Senior guard Demarius Jacobs led all scorers with 19 points, off 7-8 shooting from the field. He also added 6 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks to his statline.
In just 16 minutes on the hardwood, reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Payton Sparks scored 15 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and sent 2 shots back.
In a bigger role than his previous seasons playing under James Whitford, junior guard Jalen Windham shined with 10 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals.
The squad’s sizable lead allowed for several bench players to play meaningful minutes, and to showcase their improved skills.
Three Cardinals came off the bench to score in double figures. Newcomer junior Kaiyem Cleary scored 17 points, vastly improved sophomore Basheer Jihad put up 13, and redshirt sophomore Mickey Pearson added 13. Pearson paired his 13 points with 13 rebounds, giving him his first double-double as a Cardinal
Making their performance even more impressive, the Cardinals played without sophomore Jaylin Sellers, who was named to last season’s MAC All-Freshman Team, and graduate transfer Darian Owens-White. Both were out due to injury, but should see the floor again in the non-conference half of the season.
Earlham, located in Richmond, Indiana, had a bleak showing against the physically-imposing Cardinals. As a team, the Quakers put up a 24.6% clip from the field, and had a 4/22 assist-to-turnover ratio. Coach Joe Scheuers’s team was led in scoring by Jaden Terry, whose 12 points made him the only double digit scorer for the squad.
Ball State will be back in action on Saturday, November 12, when the squad travels to Terre Haute to square off against the Indiana State Sycamores. The contest is slated for a 2pm tip, and will be a good test in Coach Lewis’s first game against a Division I opponent.