Every time Bucknell took the lead, Ball State responded by taking it right back – that was until the final two minutes of the game.
With 1:48 remaining in the game, the Cardinals had an 81-80 lead. A pair of controversial fouls against Ball State (1-4) late in the game resulted in an 87-83 victory for Bucknell (2-4).
While head coach James Whitford let the referees know how he felt on the floor, in a post-game interview he simply said, “no comment.”
The loss marks Ball State’s fourth loss this season, but as the Cardinals sit at 1-4, they know they could just as easily be 3-2 through the tough early season travel stretch.
“We can’t be concerned on wins and losses,” Whitford said. “[Bucknell will] be playing in an NCAA Tournament in March and we just came into their gym and played good enough to win the game.”
While Whitford says he’ll have to watch the tape on the last four minutes where Ball State lost the lead, there were several positives to pull from the tight loss.
Junior guard Tayler Persons scored 21 points on the night, marking 1,000 points on his career between his time at Northern Kentucky and Ball State. Sophomore Kyle Mallers continued his strong early season production, scoring 13 points and pulling in five rebounds before he fouled out in the last minute of the game.
On top of that, Ball State got production out of its big men – particularly Trey Moses who finished with a season-high 22 minutes.
“Big guys were playing real good,” Whitford said. “What you see from us tonight was having an all-conference defensive player in their tonight, which is what we needed.”
Moses was one of four players to finish in double digits, scoring 12 points and pulling in four rebounds. Freshman forward Zach Gunn also finished with 13 points and three blocks against the Bison.
Still, Ball State finished with a season-high 28 personal fouls with five players finished with four or more fouls in the game. In contrast, Bucknell had just 16 personal fouls as a team with forward Zach Thomas leading the way with 22 points, one of four Bison players who finished in double digits.
With the loss, the Cardinals finish up their Phil Knight Invitational event with a 1-3 record, playing two competitive games against Stony Brook and Bucknell.
“This is a long year, it’s a marathon man and you’ve just got to keep learning lessons for now, good or bad,” Whitford said. “It’s not the team who’s the best right now, it’s the team that improves the most in March and our goal is to be that team.”
Ball State returns to Terre Haute, Indiana to play Indiana State on Nov. 25 before returning home to play eight of its next nine games in Muncie. The home-stretch begins against Oakland City on Nov. 28.