Conor Hockett

With 8:59 left in Tuesday's game against Akron, senior center Jarrod Jones flew threw the air for an uncontested alley-oop from sophomore guard Jesse Berry to trim the lead to one point.

Similar to a potential game-winning play against Eastern Michigan on Jan. 14, Jones said he should have exploded for a highlight reel dunk, but instead missed an uncontested layup off the glass.

While Tuesday's play didn't happen in the final seconds, it may have still have cost Ball State the game.

Akron scored the next seven points en route to a 70-58 win in front of 3,757 fans at Worthen Arena.

Following the miss by Jones, Akron's sophomore guard Brian Walsh hit a transition 3-pointer which seemed to suck the life out of Ball State. Walsh trumped that shot with another 3-pointer with 2:53 left in the game to push the Zips lead to nine, and the game essentially out of reach.

"Those were big shots," Taylor said. "They only made three 3's in the second half and those were two of them. One was a transition one where they go up by six and gives them a comfortable lead. The last one was a big shot. We were still creeping back where if you get that stop, the rebound and a score, you're still right there. Pushing it [the lead] to nine made it really hard to get over that hump."

Walsh, a transfer whom Akron's coach Keith Dambrot said only sat because of pros at Xavier, finished tied with a team-high 16 points and three steals.

Early in the game, it seemed Walsh wouldn't get his chance to shoot himself into recognition. Ball State opened the game on a 9-0 run, all off the hands of Jones.

"He [Taylor] had his guys ready to play early and they popped us in the mouth good," Dambrot said. "We were getting our brains beat in. I didn't know whether we were going to recover from it really. We kind of hung in there and made some plays and stopped self destructing in the second half."

Jones made all the plays for the Cardinals in the first half. He scored 17 of his game-high 25 points before the break on acrobatic shots of all sorts. It was clear he came to play after Jones saved an offensive rebound from going out of bounds, stepped in and drilled a 3-pointer from the corner for the first points of the game.

Scouts from the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic traveled to Muncie to watch Jones' match up with Akron's 7'0 junior center Zeke Marshall. While Marshall only managed four points and two rebounds on the night, he and sophomore forward Demetrius Treadwell limited Jones to eight points in the second half.

"I thought Zeke and Treadwell did a better job with Jones [in the second half]," Dambrot said. "Jarrod Jones went nuts early. Shooting threes. In the second half, I thought he struggled to score over Zeke, which changed the game a bit. "They can't just throw out for threes. Zeke is one of the few guys in the league who can guard him one-on-one. I'm not saying he can guard him, but he can at least hold his own."

Outside of Jones, Ball State's other players didn't provide much help. Akron outscored them 30-4 in bench points, all four of those scored by Berry.

"We've always had good big people--that's one thing we've been blessed with here," Dambrot said. "We have two good young ones now in [Nick] Harney and Treadwell behind our other two. So that's where we've won games--our bench is terrific. Quincy Diggs is playing as well as anyone in the league right now."

Dambrot said Diggs dominated play in the second half. His length and defensive pressure bothered the Cardinals backcourt of Randy Davis and Tyrae Robinson and made them start offense near the volleyball line.

Robinson said that pressure pushed the Cardinals out of the pace and tempo they wanted and made it difficult to run offense.

Ball State committed only 13 turnovers to Akron's 17, but most of them seemed to come at critical times in the second half. Most of those resulted in uncontested layups to put the game out of reach.

Tuesday's loss marks the eighth consecutive in the series between the two teams. The Cardinals last victory against the Zips came back in the 2004-05 season.

Akron has made the Mid-American Conference Tournament four years running, winning an NCAA berth the last two. Dambrot said he knows that makes everyone in the conference gear up to play his team.

"I know I feel it [a target on his back]," Dambrot said. "All the sudden we've made all these natural rivalries. Ohio U hates us. We already got Kent State, Ball State. Bowling Green comes at us. I'm proud of the fact our program is looked at that way. Our guys, I'm telling you now, they're a loose group so I don't know if they feel it at all. But they drive me nuts as a 53-year-old coach. I've had to adjust [to them]."

Despite the win tonight, Dambrot said Ball State isn't far away from making a tournament run of its own.

"I just thing each game is a mutually exclusive event," Dambrot said. "I think they're going to beat us. They just didn't play well enough to win tonight. Eventually they're going to get us--they're a good team. Our perimeter guys shot it better than their perimeter guys tonight, really. We just gotta make sure the next time we play, we remember how to win. But I hope we don't play them, I hope we play somebody else."

While many called this a statement game for Taylor and his team, the Cardinals will have to wait at least till the MAC Tournament for another shot to show they're ready to take that next championship step.

"We definitely knew the importance of this game," Jones said. "We came out with a lot of fire early. They ended up making a run. It's up to us for us to recover to that run in the second half when they come out and push it on us. We have to be ready for that next time. I'm sure we'll see them again."