After an 18 point loss to Ohio on Saturday, Ball State Men's Basketball (10-7, 1-3 MAC) played like Saturday was a fading memory as the Cardinals would go talon to talon with conference leader Bowling Green (12-5, 4-0 MAC).
In a back and forth battle between the two, the game came down to the final seconds with the Falcons able to down two shots at the line to pull ahead of Ball State by four. While Redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons was able to sink the three point shot at the buzzer, the Cardinals would fall one point short, 78-79.
"What I said to them in the locker room was our effort was right, we competed and we just didn't win," head coach James Whitford said. "We didn't always play our best, we didn't have everyone clicking with conference and you kinda go through those flows. That's the good news. The bad news is that's the only effort that is ever acceptable and then you deal with the consequences going forward."
The team saw vast improvement from their last matchup in every facet of the game. The team shot six percent better from field goal range at 48.2 percent, 13 percent higher from the line and 23 percent higher from deep. The Cardinals also broke two players into the 19 plus point range seeing Persons with 28 and junior forward Tahjai Teague with 19.
"The game that is unacceptable for us is the Ohio University game," Whitford said. "That can ever happen again from a standpoint of competitiveness and effort. We played the right way tonight and against Eastern, which will sort itself out. This the only level effort that's acceptable."
While the Cardinals did get back into the groove of things, the Falcons rolled off of the momentum they had built on a seven, now eight, game winning streak and a undefeated home record. Redshirt sophomore guard Justin Turner set a career high downing 20 points in the game, 17 coming in the first half. The Falcons showed efficiency on the boards pulling down 15 offensive rebounds and scoring 19 second chance points. Bowling Green contradicted the statistic of 325th in the country at the line downing almost 90 percent their shots.
From tipoff, the Cardinals had a sense of déjà vu as Bowling Green would open up with a 12-4 lead. Turner lead the charge with nine points downing 4-4 from close. Persons would lead the Cardinals to pull within one point at halftime sparked off a 9-0 run just over the halfway point. The Falcons shot 100 percent from the line at the first buzzer and would out rebound the Cardinals, 24-14.
The second half saw both teams stay with in striking distance of each other. Teague would draw his fourth foul of the game around the 15 minuet mark with the game tied at 46. He would spend minimal time on the bench as he would be in action for seven minutes before fouling out around the three minuet mark of the game.
Both teams would exchange ties and small leads until a Falcon run, seeing the team go 3-4 from three point range, set Bowling Green ahead by five. Down by six with 33 seconds left, sophomore guard Zach Gunn would down a three to put Ball State within one possession. A five second violation by the Falcons would give the Cardinals a chance to tie, but Gunn would miss.
In the final sequence, giving the Cardinals another opportunity to tie, in what was thought to have a jump ball possession in favor of Ball State, a controversial call would give Bowling Green possession forcing the Cardinals to foul. While Persons would down a three pointer at the horn, the team fell one point short of a tie.
"They got it wrong and that was crystal clear," Whitford said. "They know they got it wrong and i'm sure somebody is going to deal with it. I watch a lot of basketball during the year and that's not a mistake I see when my son's 5th grade team plays."
In the loss, the Cardinals fall to 1-3 in MAC play, their worst start in conference play since 2014. While the team may have not won the battle, they believe they are far from losing the war in this competitive MAC conference.
"We competed all the way through," Whitford said. "They're starting to click on all cylinders and it started to feel like us two or three weeks ago. However, the only way you can handle it is playing focused, competitive basketball."
Contact Jack Williams with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jackgwilliams