Ball State Men’s Basketball (14-10, 7-4 MAC) was up 57-56 over Northern Illinois (15-10, 8-4 MAC) with 30 seconds left in the game. It led by 15 points earlier in the half and needed something to go right.
The Cardinals gave it to junior guard Ishmael El-Amin. With the shot clock ticking down to zero, he pump-faked, the defender jumped, El-Amin heaved the ball into the air and the ball went in, causing Worthen Arena to erupt.
“I’m just playing basketball,” El-Amin said. “I pump-faked, leaned to the right a little and put it up. It felt good. It was a one-possession game, so it felt good to put my teammates in that position.”
Ball State went on to win the game 63-59, defeating the top team in the Mid-American Conference West Division, and El-Amin led all scorers with 22 points, adding three rebounds and three assists to his total. He was followed by redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague and senior forward Kyle Mallers with 12 points apiece.
El-Amin had the task of guarding the highest scorer in the MAC, Eugene German, who averages 20 points per game. El-Amin and the rest of the team held him to 18 points on 7-of-20 shooting.
Mid-American Conference standings
*Top four seeds receive a first round BYE
1. Bowling Green* (9-3)
2. Akron* (8-3)
3. Northern Illinois* (8-4)
4. Ball State* (7-4)
5. Central Michigan (6-4)
6. Kent State (6-5)
7. Buffalo (6-5)
8. Western Michigan (4-7)
9. Ohio (4-7)
10. Toledo (4-8)
11. Eastern Michigan (3-8)
12. Miami (Ohio) (2-9)
“You can argue this was the best game he has ever played at Worthen,” head coach James Whitford said about El-Amin. “He had incredible composure as he played 38 minutes and defended Eugene German for 38 minutes. We needed it.”
The Cardinals and Huskies are the two top scoring defenses in the MAC, and Ball State held its 10th opponent under 60 points.
“I think we did what we have done well all year, and that is playing through our defense,” Whitford said. “Our defense was exceptional for most of the game, but offensively, we had a six- or seven-minute stretch where their pressure bothered us, and we were able to get through that because of our defense.”
Whitford said he was proud of the rotations and communication the Cardinals displayed, which even got the crowd on its feet.
“We had a couple of possessions there where the defense was so good, the crowd got up and cheered,” Whitford said. “There were possessions where we had to keep rotating, and when they would pass it, we would get there. They would drive, and we would get there too.”
Ball State went into the half with a 29-22 lead over Northern Illinois and extended its lead to 39-24 at the 15-minute mark of the second half.
Mallers hit two threes out of the break, and when the Huskies made their run late in the game, he was relied on to get to the basket. He drew a couple of fouls and got to the line down the stretch.
“I was just trying to pick and choose my spots to be aggressive,” Mallers said. “They had somebody I thought I could beat off of the dribble. I thought we played well as a team on offense and did a good job.”
Mallers led the team with nine free throw attempts, making six of them. Whitford praised his aggressiveness on offense late in the game.
“He did a good job tonight getting to the foul line,” Whitford said. “He took his matchups to the glass. They were trying all kinds of bigs, and he kept taking them to the glass. He had a huge hustle play on the offensive rebound.”
This is the second consecutive game Ball State has allowed the opponent into the game. Its last game against Western Michigan resulted in a loss. This time around, the Cardinals were able to weather the storm against the Huskies.
“I think the thing we have to do is handle the pressure better,” Whitford said. “I’ll accept responsibility for that. I should have put us in a better position. When they started pressuring is what I thought really bothered us.”
Another area the team wants to improve is rebounding, and El-Amin blamed second-chance points for the Huskies' comeback. Ball State allowed 12 offensive rebounds, allowing 12 points off of those.
“They got a lot of offensive boards and second-chance shots,” El-Amin said. “If we did a better job of rebounding and not letting them get second chances, the game may have played out a bit differently."
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @ianh_2.