Editor's note: The score originally published was listed as 61-53. Since then, the score has been corrected to 61-43.
Not much was expected from the Cardinals in the Mid-American Conference tournament. The team was riding a two game losing streak into Ypsilanti as the 11 seed facing an Eastern Michigan squad who barely missed a BYE.
However, the underdog mentality began to set in for the Cardinals. Outscoring the Eagles 38-14 in the second half, Ball State Men's Basketball (16-16, 7-12 MAC) took off to upset sixth seeded Eastern Michigan (15-17, 9-9 MAC),61-43.
"We struggled in that role where we're a team that's expected to win," head coach James Whitford said. "If there is one thing that was good that happened to us toady is that no one expected us to win. It felt good for us to be the underdog and for it to be us against the world."
While the Cardinals played a close game in the first half, it was the second that made a difference. Ball State went 14-26 from close and 2-7 from deep to Eastern's 4-27 from field goal and 0-11 from behind the arc. On the boards, the Cardinals had 41 pulldowns on the night, 25 in the second half.
Whitford said that the team felt a connection on the court that drove them to the win. The finish was the team's first win at the Convocation Center since 2017.
"The two points I made in the locker room were how do feel right now in how connected you are," Whitford said. "When we made a mistake on something they were correcting each other and I thought that was huge. The second thing was that we changed very little from the last game up here. It's not what we did, but how we did it."
First half saw the Eagles open up on a 7-0 run to help them lead through the first half. Ball State pulled within one, 12-11, from a three from sophomore guard Ishmael El-Amin. However, accuracy in shooting gave the Eastern the edge at the half, 29-23. The Eagles downed 11-24 from close, while the Cardinals went 7-23.
From the start of the second half, Ball State turned it on. The team went on a 17-2 run to pull ahead, 37-31, just under the halfway point. The Cardinals locked down from three shooting 5-18 from downtown. Eastern continued to fight, but the run in the second would give Ball State the advantage and the win.
In the finish, redshirt junior forward Tahjai Teague lead with 15 points going, 6-13 from field goal and 3-4 at the line. Redshirt junior K.J. Walton led in pulldowns with eight while five more players had six.
The Cardinals will face the No. 3 seed Bowling Green on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. A time has not been set. The last time the Cardinals faced the Falcons a controversial call and missed three by redshirt senior guard Tayler Persons handed Ball State the loss, 79-78.
As the team heads to Cleveland, hoping to three more wins, they are locked in and ready for their next opponent.
"It was a really close game the first time we played them, but anyone can win any game," Whitford said. "Anyone in this league can be anyone. It's going to be an exciting game, we got one under our belts and we'll be excited to get up there and play."
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