If there was ever a time that a talented team was overlooking an opponent it was the Notre Dame Apparently the Irish men’s basketball players thought that being listed as, at the very least, an 18-point favorite meant the opposing team would not show up and cause too much trouble.
Nobody seemed to tell that to the Ball State Cardinal players. They came ready to play as they downed the Nationally ranked Irish by a final score of 80-77. It happened in front of a home crowd of stunned fans wearing green and blue. They watched in disbelief as a three-point shot ended the game as Ball State players celebrated.
Heading into the game the Irish were 7-1 one the season and have been ranked in and around the top-ten for much of the season. It’s been four years since the Irish fell to a nonconference team and almost 20 years since Ball State had knocked off a nationally ranked team. Now that the game is in the books there’s three take-a-ways that we can glean from the Ball State taking down Notre Dame.
Smaller Programs are Good
Yes, there’s always going to be a certain number of NCAA basketball teams that are seemingly at the top of the rankings from year to year. And, there’s always going to be a larger number of teams that hover around the middle of the rankings with some becoming Cinderella programs. Here’s the problem – many of those smaller programs are packed with talent, not all of them, and they’re hungry to take down the “big boys” anytime they can.
Ball State is a perfect example. They play in the Mid-American Conference along with such teams as Kent State, Akron and Eastern Michigan. The winner of the conference tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament every year and there’s often another team with quality wins that should go but are not selected. Meaning? Just because the NCAA committee forgets about a good team doesn’t mean you should overlook them!
Ball State was Playing with Purpose
I’m not saying that the Ball State players would not have risen to the heights they achieved against Notre Dame because of this… but it could have been a factor. It was this summer heading into the beginning of camp that the team was laying to rest one of its own.
Zach Hollywood, a 6– 9 freshmen, found out that he had ulcerative colitis. The same disease that took his mother’s life inn 2016. The news was apparently too much to handle as teammates found his body in his apartment. He had taken his own life.
The team now plays with a social media motto #RIPWOOD. It’s part of the healing process for the players and staff that includes a phycologist to help with the grieving process.
Again, I’m not saying that they would not have beaten Notre Dame without the backstory of a fallen player. But I am saying this; teams that plan on coasting through a game against a hungry opponent needing a win and to help pay homage to a friend will probably lose.
After the win Ball State Head Coach James Whitford headed to the locker room to meet his players. It was a much-needed moment for the team that had been suffering blow-out losses to big-time basketball schools. He was greeted with a celebration.
“I am so proud of you guys! So proud,” Whitford said to his players in the locker room. What an incredible win against a great team. We hung in there and fought for 40 minutes.”
It Just Comes Down to the Numbers
It must have become apparent to Notre Dame players towards the end of the game that the visiting team was not going to fold easily. The Cardinals stayed with Notre Dame the entire game and had the lead going down the stretch. The Irish were down by six but seemed to storm back during the last two minutes.
The two teams were tied with only seconds left on a solid 3-pointer by Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell. Then Ball State’s Taylor Persons launched his own distant 3-point winning shot for the win. Yes, it was the winning shot - but not what won the game. In the end, the game was won with basic basketball numbers.
Things like scoring and rebounds mattered as Ball State Controlled the glass for much of the night. The Cardinals had 13 offensive rebounds and gave up only 4 to the Irish. With every big shot Notre Dame made, the Ball State players answered with one… or two... big shots of their own. They never allowed the nationally ranked team to start a big run.
It was basketball basics that won the game for the Cardinals. But, as Whitford noted to Persons, a great 3-point shot to end things is always welcome.