Andrew Walker

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – For the second straight season, the chips fell into play for Ball State University to back into a co-Mid-American Conference West Division title and the No. 2 seed and first-round bye in the MAC Tournament.

At the 7:52 mark of the second half of last night's game between Ball State University and Western Michigan University, about 100 miles away in Ypsilanti, Mich., Central Michigan University's victory over host Eastern Michigan University became official.

All the Cardinals now needed was a win over the host Broncos to secure the second-straight West title and No. 2 seed.

However, unlike last season, Lady Luck wasn't in Ball State's corner.

Trampled by dismal free-throw shooting and costly turnovers, Ball State lost 67-52 to Western Michigan as the Cardinals ended their regular season with three straight losses for the second year in a row.

Ball State's once seemingly foolproof hopes of a first-round bye are crushed and now has a quick turnaround for the first round of the MAC Tournament, where it dropped all the way down to a No. 8 seed and will play host to No. 9 seed Ohio University on Sunday.

"I feel like we let it slip away," sophomore guard Randy Davis said. "After the big win we had at home against Central, I don't know if we thought the other teams were going to just roll over, but we didn't come out ready. We didn't come out ready to smack somebody in the face. That's why we're in this position."

The fact that the Cardinals were even competitive against the Broncos was because of Davis's first-half heroics.

The point guard went into halftime with 19 of Ball State's 27 points, including a blistering 4-for-4 from 3-point range and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line. The other Cardinals combined for just eight points on 4-of-14 (.285) first-half shooting from the field.

"(Davis) had to do a whole lot in the first half," Western Michigan senior guard David Kool said. "He was basically the one-man show out there because he was coming off everything and everything was running through him. It's really tough to do that."

Ball State even took a three-point first-half lead, 25-22, off a jumper from sophomore guard Pierre Sneed with 3:45 remaining in the period.

But from that point, Western Michigan took over the game with its free-throw shooting and active hands on defense, making a combined 24 free throws and scoring 14 points off turnovers to earn the victory.

"We don't want to foul that much defensively," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. "It's not what we teach – a foul is a mistake, the way that I look at it … We've got to be a lot better."

The Broncos were also successful in bringing Davis's production to a halt. Davis had just four points on 2-of-8 second-half shooting.

"We just talked about staying in front of him," Kool said. "Anytime when you're a good player, you want to operate in space, and we just tried to stay in front of him and crowd him a little bit on those ball screens."

If Ball State had defeated Western Michigan, then the Cardinals would've been tied with Central Michigan for a second-straight co-MAC West championship. However, the Cardinals would've received the No. 2 seed that goes with the West winner this season due to having the tiebreaker over the Chippewas.

Instead, Central Michigan gets the No. 2 seed and first-round bye to Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, the annual host of the MAC Tournament.

Ball State, meanwhile, plays host to No. 9 seed Ohio (16-14, 7-9 MAC) on Sunday in a 2 p.m. tipoff at Worthen Arena. The Bobcats look to avenge a 67-66 overtime loss to the Cardinals on Jan. 31.

The winner of that game advances to play the MAC No. 1 seed in the MAC Quarterfinals in Cleveland on Thursday. The No. 1 seed will either be Kent State University or the University of Akron. The Golden Flashes and the Zips are tied for first in the MAC East and play each other tonight in their regular season finale.

MAC Tournament matchups

First round (home team listed second) - Sunday
- No. 12 Toledo at No. 5 Buffalo (if Akron defeats Kent State tonight) /Miami (if Kent State defeats Akron tonight)
- No. 11 Northern Illinois at No. 6 Eastern Michigan
- No. 10 Bowling Green at No. 7 Western Michigan
- No. 9 Ohio at No. 8 Ball State

Quarterfinals - Thursday, Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland
- Toledo-Buffalo/Miami (No. 5 seed) winner vs. Buffalo/Miami (No. 4 seed)
- Northern Illinois-Eastern Michigan winner vs. Kent State/Akron loser tonight
- Bowling Green-Western Michigan winner vs. Central Michigan
- Ohio-Ball State winner vs. Kent State/Akron winner tonight