Purdue fans have had a lot of ammunition in the last few seasons when it comes to games against in-state schools. We have an active win streak ever every in-state school except Evansville, whom we have not played since losing to them in 2005. Against everyone else in the state we have beaten them the last time we played them. Even better, Indiana State and Fort Wayne (twice!) have had now famous wins over the hated Hoosiers down south. That included both of them walking into Assembly Hall last year and walking out with two of the biggest margins of victory for a visiting team in the history of that arena.
We need to be careful though, because tomorrow night we could get our own embarrassing home loss.
Purdue is hosting Ball State for the first time in six years. Despite sharing a state, this is only the 12th meeting ever between the schools. The Boilers are 9-2 against them overall, but the last time the Cardinals won they beat a 24th ranked Purdue in the old Boilermaker Blockbuster at the Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. They have struggled over the past two decades since making the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and having a shock run through Kansas and UCLA in the 2001 Maui Invitational. This year could be different, however. They are a solid ballclub that absolutely could walk into Mackey Arena and leave with a win.
From: Muncie, Indiana
Game Location: Mackey Arena (14,240)
Date: November 10, 2018
Time: 8pm ET
Radio: Boilermaker Sports Network
Odds: Purdue by 13.5
2017-18 Record: 19-13, 10-8 MAC
2018-19 Record: 1-0, 0-0
Record vs. Purdue: Purdue leads 9-2
Last Purdue win: 66-56 at Purdue on 12/18/2012
Last Ball State win: 72-52 in Indianapolis on 12/18/1999
Blog Representation: Hustle Belt
NCAA Tournament History: 7 appearances, last in 2000. 1990 Sweet 16
Coach: James Whitford (74-88 in 5th season at Ball State)
It has been a pretty steady level of play the past few years for the Cardinals. They had 60 wins over the previous three seasons, which was good enough to play in the lesser CIT during two of those years. They’ve been close to a breakthrough, but the MAC is often a cannibalistic conference of pretty even teams where the winner is more of a survivor. They rarely are a multi-bid league, but the top of the conference is often pretty even.
Their biggest statement in many years came last season on December 5th. That night they went to No. 9 Notre Dame, who was still at full strength with Bonzie Colson, and knocked them off 80-77 for their first win over a top 25 team in 17 years. Tayler Persons led them with 24 points, including the game-winning three off the dribble with a second left.
Persons is a big reason that the Cardinals have a chance tomorrow night. In another universe he is also currently a Boilermaker. Persons, who was an Indiana All-Star at Kokomo, started his career at Northern Kentucky, but decided to transfer after his freshman season. Purdue was a place that was speaking to him, and he was, in fact, on campus to visit with coach Painter.
Unfortunately for him, Caleb Swanigan came available. It was that weekend that the “Caleb Swanigan to Purdue” really gained momentum, and Purdue had just one scholarship. Naturally, Purdue went with Swanigan even though Persons was going to have to sit out a year anyway and there was room scholarship-wise the following season when he would be ready to play. He ended up at Ball State and even decided to stay for his final season this year when there was yet another chance he could grad transfer to West Lafayette.
Persons has been very good every year of his college career. He has averaged better than 15 points per game and is shooting close to 40% from three. He also dishes out better than four assists per game. He is tough as nails, too. His senior season at Kokomo he tore his ACL as the football team’s quarterback in October. By February he was back on the basketball court and even scored more than 30 points in the sectional against James Blackmon Jr. and Marion before losing to Swanigan in the regional. That year he was an Indiana All-Star despite playing in only about 10 games. He more than held his own on that all-star team that included Trey Lyles, Blackmon, P.J. Thompson, Bryant McIntosh, Trevon Bluiett, Tyler Wideman, and Zach McRoberts.
Ball State has plenty of talent that had high major interest outside of Persons, too. Tahjai Teague had 21 points in the season opening win over Indiana State Tuesday night and he is from the family of Teague that pretty much runs Pike HS basketball. K.J. Walton had 15 in his first game eligible after playing two years at Missouri, then sitting out last year. Purdue had an interest in both. Brachen Hazen, a 6’8” forward from Columbia City, is playing his first season after playing a year at Arkansas. Zach Gunn got a lot of in-state interest from Hamilton Southeastern and even was their all-time leading scorer despite them having Gary Harris and Zak Irvin.
This is a really good Ball State team that has a ton of experience and two guys that were power 5 players in Walton and Hazen. They dropped 86 points on Indiana State Tuesday night and regularly got to the basket. They were able to shoot 20 free throws and needed only 7 threes as well. They also took care of the basketball with only 9 turnovers against 7 steals. Persons had 5 assists to go with his 16 points.
I have to be honest: we need to be on upset alert. They are more than good enough to come to Mackey and win, and they proved it last year by winning at Notre Dame. This team is good enough to win the MAC and be an NCAA Tournament team. Last season they played at Oklahoma and Oregon too. This year they’ll play Virginia Tech in Charleston next week, then also go to Loyola-Chicago later on. In fact, we could play them again on the final day in Charleston. This is a dangerous, experienced, and tested team and if we don’t come ready to play they can definitely beat us.