Ball State Upsets Notre Dame
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Ball State put the college basketball world on notice Tuesday night at Notre Dame. The Cardinals – and Tayler Persons – are legit.
Persons sank a game-winning 3-pointer with one second left to give Ball State an 80-77 victory over No. 9 Notre Dame, the Cardinals’ biggest win in 16 years. This was Ball State's first win over Notre Dame in program history.
"I think we stayed relaxed because as a team we’ve grown a lot," said Persons, who scored a team-high 24 points and took over in the second half. "We know how to play in any moment. It was rocking in here and that’s a fun environment for anybody to be in, but I’ll give credit to all our guys – on our bench and everywhere. Every timeout, we settled each other down and got to that last war and tried to play to win."
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey made no excuses in his postgame press conference. He only credited Ball State and the program James Whitford has built.
"They know who they are," Brey said. "They’re really well-coached. He’s built a really good program down there. It’s a neat story, in-state kids. They’re good. They’re good.
"I'll be following them, and I'll be rooting for them because we need them to win, right? We need them to be good. I think they're going to be very good."
It's undeniably the biggest win for the program since Ball State beat No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 Kansas in the Maui Invitational in 2001.
The Cardinals (5-4) led Notre Dame (7-2) for 26:16 of the 40 minutes, trailing for just 9:29. The last of six ties came with 21 seconds left when Matt Farrell drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game at 77 and send the crowd at the Purcell Pavillion into a frenzy.
But Persons quieted them down about 20 seconds later, shooting a dagger over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-6 Rex Pflueger with 1.7 seconds left.
For a team which lost late leads at Dayton and Bucknell, missing out on two quality wins, this was a breakthrough.
"It says a lot. It says we have a chance to be a good team, which I think is how we felt," Whitford said.
"When you're a program our size and you get into games like this, it feels a little bit different. I thought it was the experience of being in these games helped us tonight feel the same. This game didn't feel different."
It took contributions from just about everyone. Persons was the hero after shooting 10 of 19 from the floor. But Ball State wouldn't have won without Sean Sellers (11 points, seven rebounds) attacking the offensive glass, or Trey Moses locking down the paint. Or Tahjai Teague's 13 points and eight rebounds.
In the end, that was Ball State's advantage. It was simply the better team. Notre Dame has star power in Bonzie Colson (26 points) and Farrell, but Ball State is deeper. Whitford used his usual 10-player rotation, while Brey played only six players more than seven minutes. That Whitford can play a freshman point guard (Ishmael El-Amin) for 16 minutes in this environment speaks volumes.
Ball State's 40-26 rebounding advantage was undoubtedly a key factor, which is where Moses makes such a difference, whether he is the one who actually grabs the board or not. He played a season-high 28 minutes.
"I’m just so proud of our guys," Whitford said. "What a great win. We’ve come a long way. You think about where we started. To get to this point where we can beat a team like this on the road is amazing."