MEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State falls at Toledo in one of the worst losses in school history
Cardinals now must rely on others to receive first-round bye in MAC Tournament
TOLEDO, Ohio – The only Ball State University player with the heart necessary to win a game like last night's against Mid-American Conference doormat University of Toledo was sitting at the end of the bench in a lime green dress shirt and dark grey slacks.
Ball State junior forward Malik Perry, sitting out his second straight game with a hamstring injury, sat helplessly and watched one of the worst losses in school history Saturday night at Savage Arena, a 45-42 Toledo win that gave the Rockets their first MAC win of the season in 15 tries and snapped their 19-game losing streak.
"I feel for Malik Perry who's on the side, who I think is our heart of our team and he's the guy that brings that toughness," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. "We certainly need him back out on the floor, because we look like a team lost without him."
Last night's loss wasn't just some fluke towards the end of the season for Ball State. With a win, the Cardinals would've claimed a share of their second-straight MAC West title while controlling its own destiny to earn no less than a No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament.
Instead, the Cardinals now must win at Western Michigan University on Thursday in their regular season finale to earn any of those possibilities. Eastern Michigan University defeated Northern Illinois University yesterday to tie Ball State (15-13, 8-7 MAC) atop the MAC West standings, and the Eagles hold the tiebreaker over the Cardinals due to their two wins against Ball State this season.
"I thought we played scared," Taylor said. "We played tentative, really, on both ends of the floor. I don't think it was necessarily disrespect of our opponent; we just looked like a team that was scared to really go out and compete."
Toledo (4-26, 1-14 MAC), which came into the game ranked No. 345 out of 347 NCAA Division I teams in scoring average and No. 341 in scoring margin, simply knocked down its shots in the first half.
Ball State, meanwhile, did not.
The Rockets converted 12-of-25 (48 percent) of their first-half shots, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range. Ball State countered with 3-of-19 shooting (15.8 percent), including 0-for-7 from 3.
Toledo found success defensively primarily by blanketing Ball State's two top perimeter shooters – sophomore guard Randy Davis and freshman guard Jauwan Scaife – while trapping sophomore center Jarrod Jones in the post.
"We knew that Scaife and Davis, especially Davis, had been red-hot coming into this game," Toledo coach Gene Cross said. "If you take those three away, we felt that we had an opportunity to win."
Toledo returned to its stagnant offense in the second half, but mostly because it decided to play against the clock rather than against Ball State, milking the shot clock to its final seconds on several second-half possessions.
In fact, the Rockets had a stretch of 7:49 without a point in the second half, but the Cardinals were only able to cut the deficit by six points to 35-23 over that span from the 16:43 to the 9:06 marks.
To compound issues, Davis, the Cardinals' leading scorer in MAC play, left the game with 2:52 remaining in the second half as he took an apparent forearm to the nose and eye from Toledo freshman guard Malcolm Griffin.
Bloodied, he left the game to be tended to by trainers as officials took a timeout to see if Griffin had instead thrown a punch at Davis on the replay monitor as the blood was cleaned from the Savage Arena court.
But Davis returned just 53 seconds later, apparently lighting a spark for the Cardinals.
Ball State cut the deficit to three, 45-42, with 47.2 seconds remaining in regulation off a 3 from the wing from Scaife – his first in six tries.
But time was not on Ball State's side, even as Toledo turned the ball over five times and hit just 2-of-4 free throws in the final two minutes of the game.
Scaife missed a 3 from the wing with five seconds to go as the ball went out of bounds to Toledo. The Cardinals fouled the Rockets' Kevin Rohner, who missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but freshman guard Myron Green's 3-pointer from the wing to send the game into overtime was no good, ensuring the deflating loss for Ball State.
For the fourth time this season, the Cardinals shot less than 30 percent from the field in a game. Ball State shot 26.7 percent against Toledo, a far cry from its first game against the Rockets this season, a 71-43 blowout win on Jan. 17 where the Cardinals shot 50 percent from the field and made eight 3-pointers.
"We went 1-for-12 from the 3-point line, but lately those guys have been knocking down shots, so we can't be mad at them for taking the shots," said Jones, who finished with a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) for the Cardinals. "They were good shots, we just didn't get the ball to fall into the net tonight. It was definitely a disappointing loss."
Davis finished with a game-high 14 points, while Scaife added 11.
The only other Ball State player to score was sophomore forward Mo Hubbard, who finished with four points and six rebounds. Other than those four – Jones, Davis, Scaife and Hubbard – the rest of the Cardinals combined to shoot 0-for-14 from the field.
"That's what disappoints me the most," Taylor said. "You have nights where you struggle shooting the ball or you might turnover or make some bad decisions, but we just looked afraid out there, and that's something that I can't tolerate as a coach, and we can't tolerate as a program."
Junior forward Justin Anyijong finished with a team-high 13 points and seven rebounds for Toledo.
Ball State travels to Western Michigan Thursday in both team's regular season finale.
A Ball State win and a University at Buffalo loss at Miami University, also on Thursday night, and the Cardinals at the least back into the No. 4 seed in the Tournament and a first-round bye.
A Ball State win and an Eastern Michigan loss Thursday at home to Central Michigan University, and the Cardinals and the Chippewas would tie for first in the West, while Ball State would claim the co-West title and the No. 2 seed and first-round bye due to its tiebreaker over Central Michigan.
A Ball State loss at Western Michigan, however, and it does not receive a bye in the first round, instead setting up the possibility of earning the No. 5 seed and a first-round matchup with Toledo at Worthen Arena March 7.
Sounds confusing? It is, and Taylor is sick of his team focusing on what could happen in the MAC Tournament when the regular season isn't even complete.
"I think there's too much being made about the seedings and positioning and all that – we've just got to come out and play hard," Taylor said with arms crossed. "We're not good enough to say, ‘We're going to worry about the seedings.' We need to play good solid basketball; we need to share the ball."