It's haunted the Cardinals on three separate occasions this season. With a tight game coming down to the final seconds, one shot changes it all.
With 39 seconds left in the game, Ball State Men's Basketball (11-9, 2-5 MAC) had a slim 74-73 league against Ohio (11-8, 3-4 MAC). In a close game throughout, a lead for either team would be huge. With the clock ticking down, a three ball from Ohio's Gavin Block would fall helping the Bobcats pull away from the Cardinals, 78-74.
"This game was certainly there to win for us," head coach James Whitford said. "I told the team we didn't play our best by any stretch, but we tried to play the right way. I thought we had a better understanding of what we needed to do in order to be successful. Down the stretch we had opportunities to make big plays and we didn't."
In the Cardinals rough start to conference play, this is the fourth game in six conference matchups that has been decide by less than six points. The Cardinals would lose by two off of a late three to Eastern Michigan, by one to Bowling Green off of free throws, by six to Miami off a late three and now four to Ohio off a late three. With the majority of MAC games being decide by less than 10 points, closing out games proves to be the key to victory.
While Ball State struggled in the final seconds, the team's sharp shooting from deep is what kept them in the game. The Cardinals shot for 55 percent from deep, downing 10-18 three point shots. Redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons went 3-7 from deep with junior guard Kyle Mallers and sophomore guard Zach Gunn following at 2-4.
"We played better on offense and the ball moved a lot better," Whitford said. "It was right side, left side and up the court. I thought we tried to play better even though we didn't have the normal success we usually do into to post."
The Cardinals started off the game better than their last matchup with the Bobcats as they would take an early 3-0 lead off of a Persons shot. Both teams would remain close with each other until the five minute mark when Persons and Mallers would down back-to-back threes for a 27-21 lead and spark a 8-0 run. Persons would put an exclamation point on the Cardinals 37-30 lead at the half with a deep shot at the buzzer.
One of the Bobcat's top shooters, Jason Carter, was completely silent in the first half having zero points and going 0-2 from close. That would completely change in the second half. Carter would down 11 of Ohio's first 12 points in the second giving the Bobcats a 43-41 lead to start the half. He would finish with 16 on the night.
"He really finished around the rim, which is something he had been struggling to do," Whitford said. "He's actually been shooting threes really well and he got in there a couple times to finish around the basket."
From that point on, neither team would break a lead larger than four points. In a game that saw 19 lead changes, every shot proved to be vital. Back-to-back shots from outside the arc from redshirt sophomore guard Josh Thompson would give the Cardinals 58-55 advantage just around the midway point. Another Persons three would break Ball State into 70 before redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton's layup would put the Cardinals up 74-73, but that Block three would force the Cardinals to foul sending Ohio to the line. Two downed shots would put the game out of reach for Ball State.
In the loss the Cardinals drop their fifth game in six matchups. Persons led the team with 21 points followed by Walton and Mallers with 10. While the team shot strong from deep, Whitford said the team's scoring up close was not as strong as it usually is.
"We struggled to finish around the basket," Whitford said. "Tahjai went 4-12 and 3-11 inside the arc. Trey 4-9 inside the arc. K.J. 2-7 inside the box and I think he had one jump shot. We really struggled to score in and around the basket which is usually one of our strengths."
The team has a quick turnaround heading further east to take on No. 14 Buffalo on Tuesday. The Bulls are coming off of a tight win at Kent State, 88-79, on Friday.
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