In a game that saw redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton score a new career high and hit two buzzer-beaters Saturday, Ball State (11-11, 2-7 MAC) couldn’t close it out against Kent State (16-5, 5-3 MAC) as it fell for the fourth consecutive time at home.
“We played well enough to win against a really good team and battled and played, I thought, the hardest we’ve played in a while,” redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons said. “It just shows that it’s tough, man. It’s a tough L.”
Neither team was in control of the game until the clock hit zero. The Cardinals got out to a 10-point lead midway through the first half, but it never got any worse than that.
This back-and-forth play continued throughout the rest of the first half. The Flashes took the lead at the 3:37 mark in the first half – their first since the opening minutes. They built that lead as high as four points, but it was trimmed to two when Persons made a full court pass to Walton with two seconds left for a layup.
“I was really proud of the guys’ effort,” head coach James Whitford said. “I thought we focused on the right things, and I thought we dealt with the adversity in the game better than we had been [in previous games]. I thought that was a big difference.”
The Cardinals never had the lead in the second half, but they tied the game on three separate occasions. At one point, redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague forced Kent State to call a timeout after he slammed home two consecutive wide-open dunks, bringing the crowd of 4,024 to its feet.
“Just keep chipping away,” Teague said. “They kept passing me the ball, and I just tried to deliver.”
Teague fouled out with four minutes to go in the game. Immediately after, the Flashes took their largest lead of the day at nine points. That left the Cardinals without their two regular starting big men as senior center Trey Moses sat out nursing a knee injury.
Whitford said it was difficult to organize his team down the stretch because he had to play multiple players who were not used to being on the court together. Persons added that the team played well during the final minutes despite the abnormalities.
“We just kept fighting, man,” Persons said. “We’re down a lot of guys. We’re down a lot of people. Tahjai, one of our best players, fouls out – I mean it’s tough.”
The Cardinals tied the game a third time in the second half at the buzzer. Walton received the ball on the right wing, stepped back and let it fly. Worthen Arena erupted as the shot fell in, and five more minutes of basketball were on the horizon.
Walton’s three was the first he’s made this season and only the eighth he’s attempted. While it’s not his strong suit, Walton said it felt good to see one fall.
“It felt great. I was just trying to get a win. Unfortunately, we came up short,” Walton said. “Big moments, you got to be able to step up.”
The overtime period saw more of the same seesaw scoring, but it was Kent State who came out on top, 83-80.
This was the seventh time this season the Cardinals have lost by fewer than 10 points and the fifth time in conference play.
“We got to be consumed with our process,” Whitford said. “We’ve had some games this year where we’ve really melted down when things started to go bad… That’s the thing that we have complete control over, and I thought in that area we were much better today.”
Ball State will travel to Northern Illinois Tuesday to take on the Huskies.
Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.