Conor Hockett

The Ball State men's basketball team locked up the No. 4 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Saturday with its win against Northern Illinois at Worthen Arena. 

Western Michigan beat Central Michigan to win the MAC West Division title in its game, but Ball State still secured a first-round bye in the tournament.

After failing to reach Cleveland, the tournament site, last season, players and coaches stressed the importance of not having to host a first-round game on campus.

"It feels pretty good to know we're going straight to Cleveland," sophomore Jauwan Scaife said. "Last year was my first year and us not having a chance to go was pretty painful. Just being able to get this bye and go over to Cleveland — we've really got something to prove."

Ball State proved it was worthy of the challenge early against Northern Illinois. The team jumped out on a 20-4 run to start the game and controlled the action throughout.

Earlier in the week, coach Billy Taylor talked about what it would be like if Scaife and freshman guard Jesse Berry got it going on the same night. On Saturday, it happened. 

Berry scored a game-high 17 points and Scaife added 16. Their hot shooting set the pace for the Cardinals in their 67-57 victory.

"Jesse has been playing better lately, so it's nice to have that scoring punch from him," Taylor said. "Jauwan has been a consistent scorer. That firepower takes the pressure off our inside guys."

Saturday's game was Senior Day for Malik Perry and Adrian Tucker. Perry struggled offensively but played his usual grind-it-out style in the paint, grabbing five rebounds to go along with five assists. Playing in front of friends and family who drove nine hours to see him, Perry said he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Today was just special to me," Perry said. "Playing on this floor, in front of these fans for the last time, with my teammates. I'm just speechless right now."

Perry did leave his mark on the game. With 2:11 seconds left in the second half, he broke free for a wide-open dunk and threw it down hard for an appropriate send-off.

"I always told my teammates I'm going to go out with a bang, so I went out with a bang," Perry said.