TOM DAVIS: Ball State BEAT Notre Dame, it didn’t UPSET the Irish

Ball State's Tayler Persons (2) celebrates as he exits the court following a game Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Ball State's Jeremie Tyler (22) goes up for a shot next to Notre Dame's Martinas Geben (23) and D.J. Harvey (3) during the first half of a game Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Ball State men's basketball coach James Whitford claps for his team during the second half of a game against Notre Dame Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Ball State players celebrate following a game against Notre Dame on Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame's T.J. Gibbs (10) gets pressure from Ball State's Ishmael El-Amin (5) during the second half of a game Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey tries to pump up his team during the first half of a game against Ball State Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Ball State's Trey Moses (24) gets pressure from Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson, left, and Rex Pflueger during the second half of a game Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Ball State's Ishmael El-Amin (5) and Sean Sellers (34) celebrate during the second half of a game against Notre Dame Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson (35) competes for a loose ball with Ball State's Tahjai Teague (25) during the second half of a game Tuesday in South Bend. (BY The Associated Press)
Notre Dame's Martinas Geben (23) blocks a shot by Ball State's Zach Gunn (15) during the first half of a game Tuesday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)
Ball State's Tayler Persons (2) drives by Notre Dame's T.J. Gibbs (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

The narrative told throughout sports pages this morning in regards to Ball State beating Notre Dame 80-77 Tuesday in South Bend will use the word “upset” early and often.

Sure, the Fighting Irish were favored – at home – to win, however, if you look past the names on the front of the jerseys and understand these two programs, what transpired on the court of Purcell Pavilion shouldn’t have been a surprise at all and that is due to a number of reasons.

HISTORY LESSON

Those that have followed Notre Dame basketball through the years know full well what is very possible when the Irish play an early non-league game: the home team can lose.

Ball State knocking off the Irish not only shouldn’t be surprising, but a Mid-American Conference team doing so isn’t unheard of either.

During the Mike Brey tenure in South Bend, MAC programs such as Central Michigan and Miami (Ohio) have also gotten on the bus to return home feeling good about themselves following wins, which adds to the likes of Monmouth and Saint Joseph’s, who beat the Irish on neutral sites, while Indiana State, North Dakota State, and Loyola Marymount did so in South Bend.

This is what Notre Dame does under Brey. But I’ll also tell you this, don’t be surprised if the Irish beat North Carolina (Jan. 13) in South Bend, because THAT is also what Mike Brey-coached teams do.

PERSONS OF INTEREST

Fans can get caught up way too much in the programs that players are representing more so than actually watching the athletes perform. A high-major guy HAS to be better than a mid-major guy because… well, just because. But that isn’t always the case, and in actuality, is far less relevant today than 20 years ago.

If you watch Ball State guard Tayler Persons play, and don’t think about where he is playing, you’ll realize that the guy could play in any number of Power 6 basketball programs, so him dropping 24 on Notre Dame, including the game-winner over 6-foot-6 Rex Pflueger, isn’t a surprise.

People have doubted Persons’ ability for years because he is a stockier scoring point guard. He’s not long and athletic, he doesn’t play above the rim and he probably does turn the ball over too much for being a point guard. But the kid can shoot, he can get into the lane and he’s strong enough to finish through contact.

Ball State may very well win the MAC this season and if it does, right there is your MAC Player of the Year.

RELATED STORY:Ball State shocks No. 9 Notre Dame

THE RETURN OF MOSES

The Israelites weren’t as happy to see the return of Moses as Ball State coach James Whitford was to get a more effective and productive Trey Moses back up to full speed.

The 6-foot-9 junior center had been averaging just 17 minutes per game as he battled back from a preseason injury, but he was able to give the Cardinals 28 minutes off the bench Tuesday.

Against a thick Irish frontline, Moses teamed with starter Tahjai Teague for a combined 22 points and 15 rebounds.

If Moses is healthy and productive, like he was Tuesday, the Cardinals have a really big, talented and productive front line to enter MAC play with next month.

The days of Ball State having to battle with 6-foot-4 Franko House and 6-foot-6 Bo Calhoun (though they were fantastic) in the paint are over.

JUST WORK

The Notre Dame coaching staff could’ve spent all night watching film of this loss (I can assure you that they didn’t) to figure out as to why this game ended up like it did, but the fact of the matter is, Ball State went into South Bend and just kicked Notre Dame’s butt with effort and toughness.

The Cardinals outrebounded the Irish 40-26 overall and an astounding 13-4 at the offensive end.

That is a behind-the-grotto level of beatdown.

With 3:00-plus minutes remaining, Notre Dame had trimmed its deficit to 71-67 and was in the midst of a rally to save itself, but Cardinal senior Sean Sellers flew into the paint – untouched – and tipped in a miss from Persons to stave off the threat at that moment.

Sellers grabbed another of his seven total rebounds on the ensuing defensive possession just for an added point of emphasis.

Plays like that are why a team loses, especially at home.

DON’T FOCUS ON THE LOSSES

A lot will be made of Ball State’s mediocre 5-4 record, but if you study the Cardinals’ season carefully, Whitford’s team is a lot better than you would believe.

Ball State lost its season opener by one point, on the road, at Dayton, in a game that the Flyers outshot the Cardinals at the free throw line 23-8.

The Cardinals then had road losses at Bucknell (always a tough mid-major program), Oklahoma and Oregon.

Ball State smoked Indiana State (it had the Sycamores down 19 at the Hulman Center), as well as crushed IUPUI.

The Cardinals are good, ignore the record, and they’ll show it by winning the MAC in three months.

NOTRE DAME IS OVERRATED

Yes, the Irish had an impressive win over Wichita State in Hawaii, but aside from that game, every other game this season has told a little bit of a story about the Irish.

The win over LSU was good, but the Tigers lost by double-digits to a mediocre Marquette squad, so how good was that win, really?

When the Irish played a really, really good team on the road it got beaten like a drum (at Michigan State), and now Brey’s team gets manhandled on the glass by Ball State?

I’m sorry, that tells me more about the Irish than wins over a terrible DePaul team, as well as Chaminade, Mount St. Mary’s, Chicago State, and Saint Francis Brooklyn.

HELP

The Irish have a solid starting five and then…. not a lot.

Pflueger and guard T.J. Gibbs are nice complements to the known one-two punch of guard Matt Farrell and All-American forward Bonzi Colson, but this team can’t endure another three-plus months with no production from its bench.

Freshmen DJ Harvey, sophomore John Mooney and junior Elijah Burns have to be able to contribute and they have to get up to that ability immediately.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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