It was a tale of two halves for Ball State Men’s Basketball (4-3, 0-0 MAC). The Cardinals set a school record for 3-pointers made against Howard Saturday with 21. Tuesday, Ball State managed to make only 21 shots in total in a 69-62 loss to Western Illinois (2-4, 0-0 Summit).
In the first half, the Cardinals struggled to put the ball in the basket. At one point, the Cardinals were shooting below 10 percent from the field. The Leathernecks, on the other hand, were putting points on the board, shooting 55 percent from behind the arc.
With three minutes remaining in the first half, Western Illinois had doubled the Cardinals' score.
“In the first half, it was like we just unraveled,” head coach James Whitford said. “I’m completely disappointed. We are a better team than that. There is no excuse for us. We played the same game tonight that we played opening night on the road against Evansville.”
Decision-making was a problem in the first half, as Ball State turned the ball over seven times. The Cardinals' inconsistencies to hold on to the ball continued into the second half, as they would turn over the ball nine more times.
“We made some ungodly decisions, and I don’t know why,” Whitford said. “Once we got down, everybody was trying to hit home runs, and we can’t do that. You’ve got to be able to make good decisions and play with poise whether you are up 10 or down 10.”
Ball State was able to steal back some momentum right before the break when an offensive rebound by senior forward Kyle Mallers resulted in a quick three by junior guard Ishmael El-Amin to spark an 11-4 run. The late run cut the Cardinals' deficit down to 11 by halftime.
“We’ve been here before,” redshirt senior forward Tajhai Teague said. “We’ve got to do what we said we were going to do at the beginning of the game. We’ve got to come out strong, and make sure that we keep our defense the same and just don’t let the offense get to us.”
After the break, the Cardinals hit their stride. At the 10-minute mark, El-Amin drove into the paint and was fouled while making the layup. He made the ensuing free throw, and Ball State went on a 9-1 run to cut the lead to a single point.
Both teams stayed locked within three points of one another until a free throw by Mallers brought what was at one time a 20-point deficit to a tie at 59. Mallers also hit a pair of free throws in the final minutes to make the deficit just one again. However, Western Illinois’ Kobe Webster hit a three followed by a pair of free throws to put the game on ice.
Free-throw shooting was a problem again Tuesday, as the Cardinals shot 61 percent, downing 11-of-18 shots.
Ball State was led in scoring by El-Amin, whose season-high 21 points and five 3-point field goals helped lead the second-half comeback. Teague had 13 points and 14 rebounds in his third double-double of the season.
“This team has fight,” El-Amin said. “We showed it. Unfortunately, we didn’t come home with a win today. We’re just frustrated because we put the fight in, but we’ve got to learn from our mistakes and get better.”
Ball State takes on Loyola-Chicago at home Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Contact Matt Sharp with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharpmatthew66.