Updated Thu, Feb 7, 2013 8:31 pm
After putting Reggie Keely into the starting lineup at the beginning of January, the Bobcats went 7-0 before losing to Akron last Saturday. Coach Jim Christian decided to change things up for Ball State by taking out the struggling Ivo Baltic out and inserting T.J. Hall into the starting lineup.
And it worked.
The Bobcats defeated Ball State Wednesday night in a 69-42 blowout. Ohio improved to 16-6 overall and 7-1 in the MAC, completing their four-game road trip 3-1.
From the get-go, the Bobcats were firing on all cylinders, and Hall immediately came out contributing offensively. The junior began the 12th start of his career with 10 points and two assists in the first half, but with three fouls, he sat the bench for much of the second half.
Hall picked up two more fouls and only played nine minutes for the game, but Christian was pleased with the forward’s play despite fouling out.
“(Hall) obviously gave us a good lift, but when you guard the way we guarded in the first half, there's five guys. It's more team things than one guy,” Christian said. “I think he did a good job. So did the other four guys. We played really well defensively.”
The Bobcats scored 26 points off 22 forced turnovers. Both Walter Offutt and D.J. Cooper finished the game with four steals. The Bobcats also held the Mid-American Conference’s leading rebounder to nine rebounds and four points on the night.
Majok Majok entered the game averaging 10.4 rebounds a game including a 26 point, 12 rebound outing against first place Akron. The Bobcats focused heavily on the 6-foot-9 junior, double-teaming him from the opening tip.
“It starts with trying to take Majok out as best we can, so we doubled him and tried to make him a passer,” Christian said. “Then I think we had to put some pressure on their guards to force them out because if they get the ball on the interior, they're pretty good. We were able to shoot some gaps and get some steals to push them out even further.”
The 42 points scored by the Cardinals were a season-low for an Ohio opponent this season. The Bobcats were up 34-14 at half, forcing 15 turnovers and making the Cardinals take difficult shots. The only Ball State player to scorer above six points for the game was guard Jauwan Scaife, who finished with 18 points.
“I'm really happy for our basketball team. The way we came out defensively,” Christian said. “Tremendous amount of energy. Really stuck to our game plan. What we set out to do, I think we did which was real encouraging for us.”
The team’s energy was boosted by Jon Smith, whose play has stepped up vastly in the past two games. Smith finished the game with four blocks and six points off the bench. His 20 minutes of playing time showed great signs of improvement for the Ohio big man.
“I'm just trying to work hard. Coach put a lot of confidence in me,” Smith said. “He keeps telling me, 'Keep working hard. Keep playing. Keep trying to use my feet to get around the bigger guys.’
“I think that staying on the ground and waiting a second to jump really helped me to get the blocks. Not jumping up and letting guys get into my body. Really staying down. Coach has been talking to me a lot about that."
Christian has been pleased with the junior’s play in the past two games against Akron and Ball State.
“I think the last two games, Jon's back to being the Jon we all expected,” Christian said. “I'm really glad to see it because we need him.”
The changes to the starting lineup were done based on production. Christian said after the game that Baltic, who went 69 minutes of playing time without scoring a bucket, had been struggling, and Hall had been playing well.
“I don't really care who starts, but I think it's important to reward guys when they're playing well, and T.J. started the game off tonight,” Christian said.
The Bobcats outshot Ball State from the field (.441), the three-point line (.333), and the free throw line (.714), something that has only been accomplished in six previous games this season. Offutt led the team with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Cooper finished the game with five points and five assists.
“Just hit shots tonight. It's one of those things,” Offutt said on his shooting night. “Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way all the time. I've had good looks in other games, and they just didn't fall. I think when we do that, we've got to find other ways to help the team, whether it's rebounding, defending. I did that in other games and tonight, I helped my team by hitting shots and doing what I do."
The Bobcats will return home Saturday, Feb. 8 for the first time since their Jan. 19 win over Toledo. They’ll be taking on Bowling Green at 2 p.m., looking to become 8-1 in the MAC and stay perfect at home against conference opponents this season.