Shooting an isolation three-pointer with the game on the line takes some guts. Doing it two games in a row? That’s nothing short of fearless.
Tayler Persons catapulted the Ball State Cardinals into the national spotlight with late game heroics this past week.
It was just over two weeks ago when the Cardinals had just suffered a disappointing 87-83 loss to Bucknell in their final game of the Phil Knight Invitational. The loss dropped them to 1-4 on the season, with their only win coming against Stony Brook.
However, Ball State was better than their 1-4 record, and they showed it in the coming games.
Their next game was against the Indiana State Sycamores, a fellow mid-major that knocked off the Indiana Hoosiers earlier in the season. Beating Indiana isn’t as impressive as it would’ve been in seasons past, but nonetheless it was a solid upset and showed the Sycamores would be no joke this season.
The Cardinals never trailed in a 93-85 win against the Sycamores, and Tayler Persons led the way offensively with 18 points.
Ball State’s next two games were against relatively inferior opponents, and they easily took care of Division II Oakland City and IUPUI.
These three wins got the Cardinals on a roll, and gave them some confidence headed into a road battle against then No. 9 Notre Dame.
The Irish didn’t seem to be playing with energy, and Ball State took advantage of that. The Cardinals led by 5 points at halftime. Notre Dame had a strong start to the second half though, and took a four point lead right away. Ball State came storming back and took an eight point lead with six minutes left. The Cardinals stayed in comfortably in front all the way until the two minute mark, where they held a 75-69 lead.
The Irish had one run left in them. Matt Farrell capped off a furious last-minute comeback for Notre Dame by hitting a game-tying three with 24 seconds left in regulation.
Ball State head coach James Whitford had a timeout at his disposal. He decided not to use it, and the game was left in the hands of his redshirt junior point guard.
Unphased by the blown lead, Tayler Persons calmly dribbled the ball, and drained the clock, hoping for the last shot. With the clock at three seconds, Tayler Persons hoisted a three pointer over the 2017 Notre Dame Defensive Player of the Year. Nothing but net. The buzzer sounded, and for the first time in 16 years, the Cardinals beat a top-25 team on the road. Tayler Persons finished with 24 points on 10-19 shooting, along with five rebounds and three assists.
HUGE UPSET ALERT!!!!— TITANIC HOOPS (@TitanicHoops) December 6, 2017
TAYLER PERSONS' GO AHEAD 3⃣ WITH 1.7 SECONDS LEFT IS EVEN BETTER WITH TITANIC MUSIC!!! BALL STATE WINS IN SOUTH BEND!!! WHAT A SHOT!!!! (@BALLSTATESPORTS @BALLSTATEMBB)
Four days after one of the biggest wins in program history, the Cardinals came back home to face another mid-major team that has done pretty well so far this season: the Valparaiso Crusaders.
Valpo had the lead late in the game, and had free throws to possibly ice the game. With just over 14 seconds remaining, Valparaiso’s Jon Kiser missed his second free throw, and the ball ended up in Tayler Persons’ hands again. This time though, the score wasn’t tied. The Cardinals were down 70-68, and Persons dribbled the clock down once again, and had relatively tight defense on him. Identical to Tuesday’s game, the defensive effort didn’t matter. Persons drained a three with 2.7 seconds left to ignite the crowd of over 5,000 in Worthen Arena.
The Cardinals would again hang on to win, thanks in a large part to Persons’ 23 points. He scored his team’s final seven points in the game as well.
On the horizon for the Cardinals are 3 schools from Florida with relatively unsuccessful seasons so far.
They play 3-7 North Florida on December 19th, followed by 2-7 Jackson State on the 22nd, and 1-10 Florida A&M on the 29th. All of these games will be played in Worthen Arena as well. If the Cardinals can win all three of these games, which they should, then they will be one of the hottest teams in the MAC entering conference play.
This would be very important because the rest of the teams in the MAC are doing pretty well for themselves. In fact, as of today, no MAC teams have a losing record. It looks like the battle for the MAC’s one NCAA Tournament bid will be a close one, and Tayler Persons has his Ball State Cardinals right in the thick of things.
It’s been 17 years since Ball State has made a trip to the NCAA Tournament. It’s only December, but the Cardinals are on the right track to break that streak.