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November 25, 2012
The Ball State Cardinals come into Assembly Hall tonight for a 6 p.m. ET contest to be shown on the Big Ten Network.
Billy Taylor is now in his sixth season as head coach and feeling some heat this year after the Cardinals disappointed last year. Picked by some to win the West division of the Mid-American Conference, instead Ball State limped to a 6-10 conference mark and finished 15-15 overall.
Gone are four-year standout forward Jarrod Jones and veteran point guard Randy Davis. Those two were lost to graduation while fellow starter Tyrae Robinson left for personal reasons. Another starter, 6-foot-5 Tyler Koch (6.6 ppg), is back but out right now with a broken right thumb. The only returning starter that will play tonight is 6-foot-4 junior Chris Bond and he's more of a defensive role player, averaging 5.7 points and a team high 3.7 steals per contest.
The good news for Taylor is the emergence of 6-foot-8 newcomer Majok Majok. Originally from the Sudan, Majok moved to Australia and then to the United States where he played the last two years at Midland College in Texas. Juco Junction ranked him as the No. 18 overall prospect in last year's sophomore class. Ball State didn't land Majok until late August but he's been a hit from the get go, averaging a team high 14.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest.
"He's doing a really good job of carving out space down on the low block and scoring and getting fouled," said Indiana associate head coach Tim Buckley, the guy who preceded Taylor at Ball State.
The other scorer on this team is a name many Hoosier fans will remember, shooting guard Jesse Berry. One time on the recruiting radar of several Big Ten programs after a high scoring career at Lafayette Jefferson, Berry started his career at Dayton. After a couple arrests he left the A-10 program after the 2010 season, landing back in his home state. Last year he was a key scoring sub, averaging just under 10 points per game. This year the 6-foot-2 guard has boosted his output to 12.0 points a game.
The other familiar name and double figure producer on the Cardinals is 6-foot-2 senior Jauwan Scaife. The local product from Muncie has averaged 11.3 points thus far and has tried to take up some of the point guard void left by Davis.
Inside the starting center is veteran center Zach Fields. The senior hasn't played much until this year but has some size (6-foot-10, 269-pounds) and is pulling down 6.0 boards a game. 6-foot-8 junior reserve Matt Kamieniecki has also hit the glass well (5.3 boards per game).
Thanks to Majok, Fields and Kamieniecki, Ball State is a pretty solid team on the boards, outrebounding opponents this year by more than six boards per game. Indiana, on the other hand is outboarding opponents by more than 14 per game and Buckley talked yesterday about the need to continue to improve in that area.
"We've got to get better with our block outs, and being more physical with that block out and making the contact and making the hit," said Buckley. "But what I would say is we've done a better job of pursuing the basketball, so we're at least doing the second half of what you'd like to see. You'd like to see the block out, and then you'd like to see the pursuit. The one thing we talk about all of the time is if the two big's are blocking out, then the other three should be free to go get the basketball. And if those other three guys, which usually are our perimeter guys go get the ball, we don't need an outlet pass and we push our break even quicker."
The question mark on this team has been point guard. Berry and Scaife are known primarily as scorers. There's hope that 6-foot freshman Marcus Posley could be the answer. The Illinois native is averaging a team high four assists per game but is struggling from the field, shooting a team low 26.3 percent. His 6 to 1 assist to turnover margin leads the MAC.
Through the first three games the Cardinals are 2-1. Wins over Grambling State (78-51) and Wofford (66-61) but a disappointing 68-48 home loss last Tuesday to Indiana State.
Indiana has won all but one of the previous 19 contests between the two programs. The Cardinals only win was a 42-38 score in December 1937 under head coach Branch McCracken. A few months later McCracken would leave Ball State and go on to Indiana where he would win a couple national titles.
For more on Ball State, check out the Hoosier Game Day page.
Expected starters and key reserves with current year's stats: