MEN'S BASKETBALL: Hot Ohio not ideal tourney opponent for cold Ball State
No. 8 seed Ball State plays host to No. 9 seed Ohio today in MAC Tourney 1st round
My, how things have changed since Ohio University last played Ball State University.
The Cardinals escaped the Bobcats' Convocation Center with a 67-66 overtime win on Jan. 31. Since that win, Ball State has been one of the coldest teams in the Mid-American Conference, going 3-5 against its MAC opponents, including its current three-game losing streak where a win could've pushed the Cardinals into a No. 2 or 4 seed and first-round bye in the MAC Tournament.
Ohio, meanwhile, is 5-4 in that same span, with two of those losses coming to the MAC's best teams – Kent State University and the University of Akron – and another in the final seconds at the hands of the University at Buffalo.
Ball State hopes to leave the past behind today as it plays host to Ohio in their MAC Tournament first round matchup today at Worthen Arena.
"Ohio's not going to have any sympathy that we could've been a two [seed]," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said following the Cardinals' loss Thursday at Western Michigan University "We've got to get home, get well and just get ready to play, because at this point now it's win or go home, so, hopefully we'll play with great urgency [today] because of what's at stake."
What's at stake isn't quite attractive, either. It's a MAC Tournament Quarterfinals matchup Thursday with No. 1 seed Kent State at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Ball State played lifeless in its first two games of its current three-game funk, at home against Eastern Michigan University and on the road at MAC bottom feeder University of Toledo, before playing with a little more spunk in a losing effort against Western Michigan.
"It's frustrating," sophomore guard Randy Davis said. "We know that this isn't how we play, but we've got to correct those things, and we can't look to anybody else – the officials, or anybody – we know it's on us."
Making matters worse for the Cardinals (15-14, 8-8 MAC West) is the fact that senior forward Terrence Watson was suspended prior to the Western Michigan for "conduct detrimental to the team."
Watson had his best day in a Ball State uniform in the Ohio game earlier this season, setting career-highs in points (20) and rebounds (16).
Taylor told The Star Press Saturday afternoon that Watson will play, but nobody is quite sure to what extent he will be used against Ohio.
"We certainly need [Watson]," Taylor said Thursday night. "He's a senior and he's somebody that can help us in the interior with scoring and with rebounding."
The Bobcats (17-14, 7-9 MAC East) are led by their backcourt trio of Armon Bassett, D.J. Cooper and Tommy Freeman.
Bassett, an Indiana University transfer, leads the team with a 15.1 points-per-game average, while Cooper, a MAC Freshman of the Year candidate, averages 13.5 points and leads the MAC with nearly six assists per game.
Freeman, meanwhile, is the MAC's deadliest 3-point specialist, knocking down 46.6 percent of his 3-point attempts – more than three percent better than Davis, who sits in second place at 43.5 percent.
Freeman, a 2007 Muncie Central graduate, led Ohio with 16 points in their first matchup with Ball State this season, and has had 27- and 30-point games this season.
Today's game is set for a 2 p.m. tipoff. Though it is a MAC Tournament game, students who have stayed in Muncie for Spring Break can still get into "The Nest" free of charge by showing their student IDs.