Ball State’s rookie head coach Michael Lewis led his ascending Cardinals to northwest Ohio to battle with the 2022 MAC regular season champions, the Toledo Rockets in the headlining matchup of MAC basketball opening night.
After the Rockets’ star forward JT Shumate connected on a field goal on the game’s first possession, the Cardinals grabbed a hold of the game, and did not let up, with an onslaught of offense and an active defensive effort exhibited by Ball State stymieing Tod Kowalczyk’s veteran Toledo squad.
Although the Rockets drew the game within two points late in the second half, clutch free throws and defensive stands ensured that the Cardinals would hang on to their lead, securing them a statement 90-83 triumph in Savage Arena.
This win marked the sixth consecutive victory in a MAC opener for Ball State, and furthered the team’s current win streak to six games, the longest since the 2017-18 season.
Following suit with the majority of the Cardinals’ games this season, the key to the victory over Toledo was strong backcourt play.
Jarron Coleman, Demarius Jacobs, and Jaylin Sellers combined to score 65 of the team’s 90 points on the night, with the trio of guards serving as the catalysts for the team’s impressive performance.
Coleman, who spent last season at Missouri, led the bunch with 26 points and two assists. As the team’s leader in three-point shots made, Coleman canned four shots from beyond the arc, and was the go-to scoring option due to his hot shooting.
The experienced senior Demarius Jacobs scored a career-high 25 points, and did so with striking efficiency. The Chicago product was 8-of-11 from the field, 3-of-4 from deep, and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
Sellers, who has continued to impress in a breakout sophomore year, recorded 15 points and 10 rebounds, giving him his second career double-double.
Given Ball State’s success through its star-studded backcourt, the overall team statistics are rather glaring.
The Cardinals had their finest overall shooting night of the season, as they torched the nets with a 52.5 percent field goal clip, an even 50 percent line from three-point range, and an 85 percent rate at the charity stripe.
Ball State’s success at the free throw line is certainly a sight for Muncie’s sore eyes, as the team has consistently struggled in that department up to this point.
In addition to the squad’s offensive success, it also built a resounding edge on the glass. Ball State out-rebounded Toledo 41-21, preventing many second-chance point opportunities for the Rockets.
Ball State controlled the tone and pace of the game for nearly all 40 minutes, but Toledo still showed flashes of brilliance in their defeat.
From an overall team perspective, the Rockets executed a clean offensive game plan. The squad turned the ball over just four times on the night, and shot the ball well at over 50 percent from the field.
Additionally, Toledo’s interior defense on Ball State’s big men was imposing all night. Ball State’s Payton Sparks, a preseason All-MAC honoree, was held to a pedestrian eight points and five rebounds due to the Rockets’ pressure on him.
The Toledo effort was led by junior RayJ Dennis, who scored 21 points, dished out six assists, and snatched two steals. Cal State Fullerton transfer Dante Maddox Jr. and senior JT Shumate also contributed to the cause with 16 points and 15 points, respectively.
The win moved the Cardinals to 10-4 overall, and a satisfying 1-0 early in MAC play. On the other hand, Toledo’s loss bumps them to 9-5 overall, and 0-1 in the conference.
Both teams will next be in action on Friday, January 6, as they will both play in a double header on CBS Sports Network. Toledo will look to defend home court against Western Michigan at 6:30, and Ball State will square off against Akron at home at 8:30.