Ball State entered Saturday's Mid-American Conference opener with a much more impressive record than their opponents, Western Michigan. The Cardinals were 8-4, while Western Michigan was just 6-8. However, a closer look at the Cardinals and Broncos non-conference schedules would forgive WMU for their losing record and could make some fans question the Cardinals mark.
"I didn't know. When you're going into league play, you're concerned, 'Are you ready enough? Is your team going to play the way they've been practicing and preparing for basically the entire year," said Ball State head coach Billy Taylor.
After 40 hard-fought minutes inside Worthen Arena, Ball State proved to Taylor and the fans this is a team worthy of conference championship hype, while Western Michigan has a little work to do before it can think about defending its championship.
Ball State never trailed in defeating the Broncos 78-69, a win that gives the Cardinals an early edge in the race for the division title.
"It's a big start for us, now we just have to go out and continue to try to be a force in the West, and carry it over to the East," commented Jarrod Jones after his 20 point performance.
Coach Taylor has to like his chances when he can look to seniors like Jones and Randy Davis for leadership both on and off the court.
"We're finally getting to that point where now we have seniors who can help younger players, sophomores and freshmen," commented Taylor after the victory. "Having these seniors and their leadership has been key this year and we're going to continue to rely on these guys as we go through MAC play."
Western Michigan had no answer for Jones in the paint. The 6-9 Forward scored on a variety of impressive post moves. Guard Randy Davis played an integral part in getting Jones the ball and also showed a nice shooting touch, scoring 16 points. Chris Bond and Jesse Berry added 11 points for Ball State.
In addition to its challenging non-conference schedule which included losses to Temple, Purdue, Gonzaga, the Broncos have been dealing with some injuries. The changes in personnel led coach Steve Hawkins to comment after the game, "Our lineup is so jacked up right now."
Hawkins hopes to get some players healthy before they play the Cardinals in late February, a game the Broncos will have no shortage of confidence. Demetrius Ward scored 16 points Saturday and did not see reason to give the victors much credit.
"They (Ball State) played their game, we didn't play ours. I feel like we beat ourselves," explained Ward.
Western Michigan and Ball State were the top to teams in the MAC West preseason polls. After Saturday's physical contest, it is clear the Cardinals have the upper hand, but that Western Michigan will not go down without a fight.
"We definitely tried to come out from the jump, throw the first punch and just be physical and aggressive out there, It worked for us," said Jones.
Ball State returns to action Tuesday with a trip to Toledo, while Western Michigan is home Wednesday against Northern Illinois.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun