Coming out of halftime, the Cardinals were rolling. The team was sitting at a 14 point lead with 17 minutes left looking to ride all the way to the final buzzer. However, holding a six point lead with just under seven minutes left, everything went silent for Ball State.
Central Michigan (19-8, 8-6 MAC) would go on a 15-2 run in the final minutes of the game to steal a win over Ball State Men's Basketball (14-13, 5-9 MAC), 64-57. Head coach James Whitford said this was a tough and disappointing loss for the team.
"I told the team in the locker room that this is going to test our character, because there are no excuses," Whitford said. "There's no question that this was a game that we let get away and I give full credit to Central Michigan for their relentlessness on the glass."
The Chippewas were all over the Cardinals inside the paint, putting up 16 offensive rebounds to the Cardinals seven and knocked in 26 points inside the paint in the second half. In the final run, Ball State was out rebounded by Central Michigan, 16-3.
"I felt like we played not to lose more than playing to win," Whitford said. "We had the fear of the game getting away from us as opposed to playing to win. We needed the balance of playing smart and playing to win too. We certainly didn't have the right balance there."
While the final minutes saw the Cardinals slip, the team had a strong performance through the majority of the game. Sophomore guard Ishmael El-Amin made his return for the first time since late December after sitting out due to a wrist injury. The guard played 28 minutes to finish with eight points, going 2-4 from deep.
"It feels great to be back," El-Amin said. "It's great to be back on the court with my teammates and play the game I love. Of course I'm frustrated that we didn't come out with the win. I thought we played together, but we just came up short."
With the addition to El-Amin back into the line-up, the team is now playing with a full roster for the first time since early December. Redshirt sophomore forward Brachen Hazen made his return to the court against Western Michigan on Feb. 9 and sophomore forward Zach Gunn has dressed for the Cardinals since taking on Miami (Ohio) on Tuesday.
"There's definitely an adjustment in getting everyone back," redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague said. "This was really our first game playing with everybody for the first time in two months. We're just used to practicing with everybody and we're trying to get back to how it was in the first half of the season."
Tip-off saw the Cardinals coming in hot, out scoring the Chippewas 34-23 in the first half. Teague passed up his scoring finish against the RedHawks, leading the team with six. The defense was also locking in for Ball State as the team had five blocks, seven steals and 16 defensive pulldowns.
For the majority of the second half, the Cardinals seemed to hold down a substantial lead. Redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons and Teague had broken into double figures with 12 and 11, and Ball State had a 86 percent chance to take the win.
However, the pressure from the Chippewas inside the paint, on both offense and defense, saw the team come all the way back to steal a win. Kevin McKay lead the charge for Central Michigan with career high 19 rebounds, 12 on the defensive end.
"Offensive rebounds were the difference in that run," senior center Trey Moses said. "McKay had seven of the team's 16 and down the stretch they were getting rebounds that we should've had. We played tentative and we didn't play to win."
The loss sees Ball State drop down to 5-9 in conference play, floating between ninth and 10th place. The Cardinals do have a chance to end their season with a .500 record at 9-9, but the finish wouldn't do too much placing wise. While the odds are stacked against them, the team hasn't given up on who they are and what they can do in the late season.
"There's a good team in them," Whitford said. "We just gotta get it out. It's our quest, but I need to find a way to get it out of them down the stretch."
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