Teddy Cahill

DeKALB, Ill. – Alone in first place of the Mid-American Conference West Division for the time being, Ball State University has at least one opposing coach who expects it to stay there.

Ball State (13-11, 7-5) took a half-game lead over Central Michigan University in the division after defeating Northern Illinois University 71-66 Saturday.

After the Cardinals gritted out a key road victory against the Huskies (8-16, 4-8), coach Ricardo Patton gave an endorsement – albeit a soft one – to the visitors.

"A lot of it depends on where the game's played," Patton said. "Most good teams don't lose at home. Both of those teams are really good teams. They have guys that have been pretty consistent most of the year."

The Cardinals will host the Chippewas on Wednesday night in Worthen Arena in a game that will determine who has the upper hand in the division. Central Michigan will have a chance to pull even with Ball State on Sunday, when they play host to the University of Toledo.

Point guard Randy Davis said it was important for the Cardinals to start the final stretch of conference play with a win.

"We're kind of in a race right now with Central," Davis said. "To get the first game kind of gives us a little cushion, but we know they're going to be right on us."

After dropping a pair of games last week to the University of Akron and Kent State University, the MAC leaders, coach Billy Taylor knew his team had to rebound from the defeats.

"This game obviously had a lot of importance to us," Taylor said. "I thought we came out prepared and did a really nice job."

With the race between Ball State and Central Michigan heating up, Davis knows the Cardinals can't let down at all in their final four conference games.

"They did a real good job the first time around," he said. "So we can't expect them to fall off."