Playing its fourth in-state opponent of the season, Ball State men's basketball (21-13) lost to Fort Wayne (20-12) 88-80 in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Wednesday, ending the Cardinals' season.
The Cardinals held a 63-59 lead with 9:24 to play, but the Mastodons went on a 6-0 run to grab a 65-63 lead with 8:50 left in the game. Fort Wayne would then score five more points in two minutes, jumping out to a 70-63 lead with 6:56 left.
"When [the Mastadons] made their run in the second half, I really thought their execution on the offensive end was great," Ball State head coach James Whitford said. "I thought [Fort Wayne senior guard] Mo Evans was the difference maker in pick and rolls."
Ball State pulled within three, 81-79, after junior guard Jeremie Tyler hit his second late-game 3-ball with 2:32 left to play, but the Cardinals couldn't overcome Fort Wayne's second-half shooting.
Fort Wayne went 5-12 from beyond the arc in the second half, including the dagger from Evans to extend the lead to 84-79 with 2:15 left to play.
Ball State stats:
Field goal percentage: 43.5
Leading scorer: Tayler Persons - 18
Fort Wayne stats:
Field goal percentage: 53.5
Leading scorer: Brent Calhoun - 27
Evans finished with 15 points and 12 assists on the night.
The Cardinals also struggled defending in the paint, clearly missing sophomore forward Trey Moses, who sat with a knee injury. Fort Wayne had 52 points in the paint compared to Ball State's 22.
"They got in the lane a lot," Whitford said. "And they got the ball to [redshirt senior center Brent] Calhoun on the block a ton."
With what felt like an early exit from the Mid-American Conference Tournament for Ball State, playing the in the CIT for the second straight season provided a chance to end the season on the right foot.
"We were not where we needed to be as a team," Whitford said. "That was crystal clear."
With 10 turnovers and only 14 assists, Whitford said the offensive game affected the defensive play.
"I did not feel like we shared the ball," Whitford said. "One guy taking a bad shot, the next guy taking a bad shot, just, when you start to play that way on offense it is hard to be a united team on defense."
Ball State allowed Fort Wayne to shoot 53.5 percent from the field, and six different Mastodons scored double digits to give the Cardinals their fourth loss to an in-state team this season.
With two straight twenty-win seasons for the first since since the 1991-92 season, Whitford recognizes the recent success but is hungry for more.
"That is 42 in the last two years," Whitford said. "For us, that is certainly something to build upon."