WEST LAFAYETTE – Ball State men's basketball coach Billy Taylor knew that there would be growing pains when he brought eight new players to his roster this season. But that understanding didn't make Tuesday's 66-56 loss to Purdue in front of 8,008 fans at Mackey Arena any easier.
The Cardinals (5-5) played six veterans in their nine-man rotation, so it isn't like these guys are all new. However, several of them are in much more significant roles this season and the adjustment to increased expectations hasn't always gone smoothly.
“We still have a ways to go,” Taylor said of building this new team. “We did take some steps forward tonight, but it's frustrating for us to see so many mental mistakes that really haunted us.”
Ball State has had a difficult 12 months following last season's collapse, and then this season's up-and-down play. But after being crushed by in-state teams like Indiana State (68-48 in Muncie) and at Butler (67-53), Cardinal fans needed something to cling to as their team heads into Mid-American Conference play on January 9 (at Eastern Michigan).
Taylor's kids did deliver some hope to their followers.
With 8:33 remaining in the game, Ball State forward Majok Majok sank a pair of free throws to give his team a 47-45 lead. However, Purdue (5-6) responded with a 7-0 run and never trailed again, as the Cardinals had several late turnovers (including three in a 35 second span) and missed shots over the final minutes.
“I thought that our guys fought hard,” Taylor said. “Coming into the game, if you would have told me that we'd be even on the boards with them (Purdue held a 33-32 advantage), I would've been very pleased with that outcome and I'd say that we'd at least have a chance to win the basketball game. We were very competitive, but our mistakes, offensively, turning the basketball over, poor shot selection, and some ill-timed shots, just really came back to bite us.”
It was a similar storyline for Taylor's team, which is averaging nearly 14 turnovers per game (it had 17 against the Boilermakers).
Lafayette native Jesse Berry enjoyed a productive homecoming and led the Cardinals with 22 points, while freshman guard Marcus Posley added 12 points and three assists. Majok finished with a team-high 10 rebounds.
“We're all disappointed with the outcome of tonight's game,” Taylor said. “But once we get a chance to go back and watch the film, there will be a lot of good things that we'll be able to pull from this game to learn going forward. But it is very discouraging because we felt like we competed hard and we played well and put ourselves in a position to win.”