Following what was arguably its biggest game of the season on Tuesday, Ball State (20-9, 11-5 MAC) traveled to Ypsilanti, Michigan to take on Eastern Michigan (8-21, 5-11 MAC).
After taking a ten-point lead going into halftime, the Cardinals looked to be in control and poised to finish the game on top. It was in the second half when everything began to collapse.
“Our defensive intensity dropped major. [We] give up 27 points the first half, and [then] give up 48 the second. Just absolutely zero competitiveness on the defensive end,” head coach Michael Lewis said. “With the stops that we did get, we couldn't get a rebound. We gave up eight or nine offensive rebounds in the second half.”
Ball State lost the rebound battle 41 - 34, partly due to reigning Mid-American Conference (MAC) freshman of the year Payton Sparks’ absence down low. Sparks was out tonight with a wrist injury that he suffered in the matchup with Kent State.
Lewis explains that everybody in the league knows Sparks’ importance and that it’s never going to be easy playing without the Preseason all-MAC first-team center.
“Eastern Michigan's not a team that feeds the ball into the post and they just went right at the post and picked on some matchups in there in the post and just crushed us on the boards,” he said. “There's not many teams in this league that can take an all-conference player off the roster and compete at the same level, and definitely not us. We saw that today.”
The Cardinals were not fully loaded today, with Sparks being sidelined, Mickey Pearson being limited due to a lingering injury (he still had 12 points and five rebounds), Jarron Coleman not being 100% due to a foot injury, and Jaylin Sellers (14 points) fouling out with two minutes left.
Senior guard Demarius Jacobs stuffed the stat sheet this afternoon, finishing with 19 points, five assists, four steals, and three rebounds. However, Lewis would’ve liked to see him be more aggressive in the end, with three of his other scorers either out, or not 100%.
“We tried to go to DJ on a couple of possessions late and he's gotta have more attack to win in those situations. He's the last guy out there... and he's got to be able to make plays,” he said. “He's got to be over-aggressive in those situations, but DJ has been really good for us all year.”
Although this was a tough loss to take heading into the final stretch of the season with matchups against Akron (19-9, 11-4 MAC) and Toledo (23-6, 14-2 MAC), Lewis is not worried about his teams resolve and simply says they will respond ‘the same way they have all year.’
The Cardinals travel to Akron to take on a team who is currently third in MAC standings on Tuesday, Feb. 28 with tip-off at 7 p.m.