CMU expects an inspired Ball State men's basketball team when its hosts the Cardinals at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Rose Arena.
The Cardinals have turned their season into a tribute to fallen senior forward Anthony Newell, who suffered a season-ending injury during their 46-42 Saturday win at Eastern Michigan.
"From what I've been able to hear, they're rallying around it," said CMU coach Ernie Zeigler. "It was a very horrific injury."
Newell was averaging a team-high 15.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game before a compound fracture to his right leg required him to undergo surgery at an Ypsilanti hospital.
Three days later, his teammates returned home Tuesday against Northern Illinois and wore Newell's No. 32 on their jerseys. His inspiration carried BSU to a 60-54 win. Its 7-7 overall record is the team's best start since the 1999-2000 season and has already surpassed last season's six wins.
Meanwhile, CMU (3-11 overall, 0-2 MAC) has lost six consecutive and is off to its first 0-2 MAC start since 2006, when it finished 4-24. It took EMU to double overtime Tuesday before losing 84-77 in Ypsilanti.
"We need a win for a lot of different reasons," Zeigler said. "But first and foremost, with the type of effort and intensity we displayed Tuesday, if we can build on that intensity, as a coach, I just want my guys to be rewarded with a victory."
Next man in
When senior forward and leading scorer Chris Kellermann fractured his ankle in December in practice, Central rallied and won its next game, 74-66, against Alcorn State on Dec. 15. Sophomore guard Jeremy Allen took the lead for CMU and scored 22 points.
Zeigler said BSU freshman Jarrod Jones is that player for the Cardinals. Jones, a six-foot, nine-inch forward, averages 10.9 points and 6.6 rebounds.
"He's a load down there and he's going to be a difficult matchup for us," he said. "We're going to have to really play some swarming defense and make them try to beat us from the perimeter."
But CMU junior guard Robbie Harman said it is difficult to prepare for who will step in for Newell and take the lead role.
"It's a little tougher that we can't focus just one guy. Right now we have to worry about who the guy is who is going to step up for them," he said. "We don't really know who that's going to be. It puts pressure on us across the board to hold down our own man on defense."
CMU's lone post threat is senior forward Marcus Van, who fouled out of Tuesday's game after scoring 12 of his 13 points in the first half.
"We have to have an inside presence - we can't just depend on our threes to fall every time," Van said. "Right now, I'm probably the only person that can have a solid inside game. I've just got to stop hunting blocks. I've just got to stay on my feet and stop trying to block everything."
With its next two MAC games on the road, Zeigler said winning Saturday would help turn things around.
"There's no better place to start than at home," he said. "We've been struggling at home and on the road. And if we're going to start showing signs of life and digging ourselves out of the hole that we're in, there's no better place to start than Rose Arena."