Teddy Cahill

Randy Davis dribbled off a screen, back to the top of the key. The 5-foot-10-inch point guard found the slightest opening in the defense and pulled up for his fourth 3-point attempt of the night.

Davis' shot found the mark, giving Ball State University a late lead against Mid-American Conference West Division rival Central Michigan University.

But the Cardinals weren't done yet.

At the other end of the floor, forward Terrence Watson blocked Jalin Thomas' own 3-point attempt and the ball found its way into shooting guard Jauwan Scaife's hands. The freshman took it the length of the floor for a five-point Ball State lead.

The cushion would be all the Cardinals would need in their 69-63 victory Wednesday night at Worthen Arena. The victory effectively gives Ball State a two-game lead in the MAC West with three conference games to play.

"It was a big game for us," coach Billy Taylor said. "Really, they're all big games from here on out."

Ball State's commanding lead in the division almost wasn't to be. Despite holding an 11-point lead at halftime, Ball State was unable to put the visitors away.

The Chippewas made adjustments at halftime and went on a 18-0 run to take a 43-40 lead with 11 minutes to play. Until the five-point swing with a little over five minutes to play, the game was in doubt.

Central Michigan coach Ernie Zeigler said the game simply comes down to who makes plays down the stretch.

"At that stage of the game, it's about making plays," he said. "When you're in a one possession game like that, it's about, can you get that stop?"

Ball State has come a long way from their 53-38 loss at Central Michigan on Jan. 13. Since that loss, the Cardinals have gone 8-3, making them one of the hottest teams in the MAC.

At the start of the game, Ball State came out firing. It scored the first six points of the game and held a 14-point lead late in the opening half. Zeigler said the Cardinals simply played harder than his team in the first half.

"They came out with a lot of energy like good teams do at home," he said. "I think they out-toughed us, to be honest with you, to start the game."

Central Michigan struggled shooting the ball throughout the game, making only 36 percent of its shots from the field. Guard Jordan Bitzer led the Chippewas with 18 points, but attempted 20 field goals to get his points.

Davis set a career-high with 24 points and added five assists. Scaife scored 18 points, 12 coming from the foul line.

Outplaying the Central Michigan guards was a point of emphasis for Ball State.

"The way Robbie Harman and Jordan Bitzer have been playing has been amazing," Davis said. "We took it upon ourselves to shut them down."

The Cardinals were forced to play their biggest game of the season without defensive specialist Pierre Sneed at full strength. The sophomore was ill Tuesday and did not practice. Wednesday was the first time he didn't start a game since the MAC opener Jan. 9.

"When Pierre didn't practice yesterday, we knew that would make us adjust," Taylor said. "I don't think he had quite the wind he normally does, but he gave a great effort."

While Ball State is happy to be in the driver's seat with three games to play in the MAC, visions of last year's slip down the stretch are still vivid. The Cardinals are determined not to back into another division title and the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament.

"It was a great win, but if we do what we did last year we're going to find ourselves in another crazy situation," Davis said.