MEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State's season ends with overtime MAC Tourney loss to Ohio
Cardinals canGÇÖt hold 10-point 2nd half lead as Bobcats take over in overtime
A chant of "Cleveland rocks" began echoing off the Worthen Arena walls with 10.1 seconds to go in Sunday's Mid-American Conference Tournament first-round game between host Ball State University and Ohio University.
It wasn't the home crowd getting festive, however.
Instead, the chants came from the Ohio fan section behind the Bobcats' bench as Ohio freshman guard D.J. Cooper stroked two free throws, putting the finishing touches on the Cardinals' season with an 85-77 overtime win over Ball State.
No. 9 seed Ohio advances to the MAC Tournament Quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland where it takes on No. 1 seed Kent State University on Thursday.
The loss for the Cardinals, however, wraps up a crash-and-burn end of the season. Ball State's hopes of almost assuredly taking the MAC West Division title and a first-round tournament bye vanished with three straight losses to end the regular season.
That losing streak ends at four with Sunday's decision.
"It's tough to be in the one spot and lose the last four games," sophomore guard Randy Davis said. "But, like they say, we've just got to grow from this next year. We know what we did wrong, and now we've just got to fix it for next year."
Ball State coach Billy Taylor called Sunday's game "a little bit of a microcosm of what happened this season."Just like in the MAC West standings, Ball State blew a late lead and finds itself on the outside looking in.
The Cardinals had a 10-point second-half lead against the Bobcats with 10:29 remaining in regulation before Ohio junior guard Tommy Freeman, the MAC's best 3-point shooter, began a barrage of 3s in front of a large contingent of family and friends in his hometown.
Freeman, a 2007 Muncie Central graduate, hit three treys from the 10:02 to the 6:58 marks to help bring the Bobcats within two points, 58-56, with 6:58 left.
Senior forward Terrence Watson, playing for Ball State after serving a one-game suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team," later converted a traditional 3-point play when he was fouled on a made alley oop lay-in on an out-of-bounds play. This gave the Cardinals a six-point cushion, 65-59, with 4:49 remaining in the second half.
But Ohio responded by attacking with its backcourt, namely Cooper and junior guard Armon Bassett.
Bassett hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final 4:37 of regulation, while Cooper hit a tough left-handed layup high off the glass and two free throws of his own, as potentially game-winning shots in the final seconds from Ball State sophomore center Jarrod Jones and Davis fell short, sending the game into overtime.
"When we have a 10-point lead with 11 minutes to go, we need to figure out ways to close out a ballgame and not let a team back in," Taylor said. "We needed to close out, and we didn't do that."
Though Jones hit a jumper to open the overtime period for Ball State with a two-point lead, the Cardinals wouldn't muster much else the rest of the way, mostly because of Bobcats' lone senior Kenneth van Kempen and another dagger from Freeman.
Van Kempen, a center, had five points, three rebounds and two big blocks in the overtime period for Ohio. Freeman, meanwhile, managed to put the game out of reach for good with his fifth 3-pointer in five tries, this time with 1:14 to go in overtime to put Ohio up 79-74.
"From there, then we were kind of able to manage the overtime a little better or have the upper-hand," Ohio coach John Groce said. "And I think a lot of it was due to that shot that took to the game to two possessions."
Ball State was forced to foul the rest of the way, putting the game out of reach for good.
Davis's rise as an All-MAC candidate was all-but sealed Sunday, when he led Ball State with 21 points and tying sophomore guard Pierre Sneed for team-high honors in assists with five.
Freshman guard Jauwan Scaife also sealed what probably will be an All-MAC Freshman Team campaign with 17 points of his own, as he hit 7-of-11 shots from the field. Watson finished with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists in his career finale, while Jones rounded out the Cardinals' scorers in double digits with 12.
Senior guard Brawley Chisholm also ended his career Sunday with three points.
Ohio also had four players scoring double-digits, led by Bassett with a game-high 25 points. Cooper, a MAC Freshman of the Year candidate, had a near triple-double, as he finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Freeman and junior forward Devaughn Washington both added 15 points for the Bobcats (18-14).
Ball State had 20 assists to just 11 turnovers in the game, but Ohio keyed in at the free-throw line, hitting 27-of-34 (79.4 percent) from the charity stripe, compared to just 11-of-16 for the Cardinals.
Ball State's season ends at 15-15.