For the second time in its last three games, Ball State has gone down to the wire when it led by double digits in the second half. The Cardinals led by as many as 14 in the second half against Central Michigan Feb. 23. The Chippewas stormed back to win, 64-57.
Saturday was a different story as the Cardinals (15-14, 6-10 MAC) walked away with a 60-58 victory over Western Michigan (8-21, 2-14 MAC) after leading by 10 with nine minutes to go.
“I thought the biggest thing for us, and over the course of the 40 minutes, was not letting the pressure of the game affect us,” head coach James Whitford said. “We’ve lost enough of these games … There gets to be that sense of like, ‘Oh no, could it happen again?’ We can’t get rattled by that.”
The number that stood out in Ball State’s favor Saturday was points in the paint. The Cardinals outscored the Broncos 44-22 down low, but their big men, senior center Trey Moses and redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague, combined for only 14 points. The efficiency inside was key for the Cardinals as they made just 2 of 14 from behind the arc.
“We got a lot of points in the paint that weren’t all post-ups,” Whitford said. “A lot of them were in pick-and-rolls. A lot of them were in drives. A lot of them were on plays like that. We needed to today because we certainly weren’t making any shots.”
The difference in points in the paint could come as a surprise given that the rebounding numbers were opposite. The Broncos won the battle on the boards 48-30, with 17 coming on the offensive end.
Western Michigan’s Seth Dugan played a major role on the glass, grabbing 20 rebounds to go along with his 20 points to notch his 14th double-double of the year. The outburst was nothing out of the ordinary as the 7-footer averages 16 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
The Broncos lived and died by Dugan Saturday. While he led all players in both scoring and rebounding, he also led the game in minutes played. The big man was on the court for 36 minutes, and he was visibly tired down the stretch. He even walked up the court during some possessions.
With less than 10 seconds left in the game and the Broncos down two, Dugan received a pass under the basket for a wide-open layup. However, Moses rotated over in just enough time to block the shot, which in the end gave the Cardinals the win.
That play was payback for Moses. With just under three and a half minutes left, Dugan blocked Moses, leading to a Western Michigan game-tying bucket. Whitford said his heart skipped a beat in the final seconds.
“Trey did a really good job. They ran a lob play, which we had covered in scouting,” Whitford said. “Trey read the play, and he popped over there and took away the lob … It was great recognition by Trey.”
This win snaps a three-game skid for the Cardinals and moves them into ninth in the conference with two regular-season games to go. Ball State will be back in action Tuesday at Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m.
Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.