Ball State head coach James Whitford argues with an official during the final minute against Central Michigan players, Jan. 16 at John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State defeated Central Michigan, 76-82. Grace Hollars, DN
Streaky scoring results Ball State's 88-80 OT loss to Kent State
Win, lose by double digits. Win, lose by double digits. Win, lose by double digits.
That’s been the pattern for Ball State this season in Mid-American Conference play coming into Tuesday night’s game against Kent State. And for better or for worse, the Cardinals broke that streak, but the Golden Flashes came out with an 88-80 in what was both teams first overtime game of the year.
Ball State had every chance late in the game to separate itself from the five MAC teams, including Kent State, who came into Tuesday's slate of games with .500 conference records. Junior guard Tayler Persons hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in the game to force overtime and Ball State entered the five-minute period with what seemed to be all the momentum.
But a an early Kevin Sabo 3-pointer and a later 10-point run in overtime helped secure the victory for Kent State in overtime.
"They came out first play of [overtime] and iso'd Kevin Sabo and he banged a 3," head coach James Whitford said in a postgame interview. "I thought that was a big play. ... I thought our guys really competed and I told our team that it's about us becoming the best team we can by March."
Whitford continued to talk about how shifts in Ball State's offense, like working back in freshman Zach Gunn, who was out for over a month of the season, shifting sophomore Kyle Mallers to play more of a small forward role and sophomore Tahjai Teague to play a more power forward role, played a role in its previous two losses.
While there may have been growing pains with the new starting lineup consisting of Persons, Sellers, Mallers, Teague and Moses, it was the streaky scoring of the Cardinals, particularly late in the game, that led to the loss. It was the second straight defeat for the Cardinals (12-8, 3-4 MAC) against a MAC opponent, but it was the first conference loss in which they put up a fight, with its previous three conference losses coming by 15 points or more.
After entering the second half down seven, Ball State hit 6-9 field goals, including 3-3 from 3-point range to score a total of 16 points in the first 4:34 of the second half. Kent State proceeded to go on a 17-3 run, extending its lead to 10 points while Ball State only scored five points in the next seven minutes of the game.
One of the keys in the game, according to Whitford, was limiting Kent State's ability to shoot 3-pointers which the Cardinals did for the most part, giving up just 28 percent (7-25) from behind the arc. As a team, the Cardinals shot 38 percent (11-29) from 3-point range led by Persons (4-6) and senior Sean Sellers (3-5).
The game marked the 15th straight victory for Kent State (10-10, 4-3 MAC) in the rivalry and keeps Rob Senderoff’s record at a perfect 8-0 against Ball State head coach James Whitford. The last time Ball State beat Kent State was back in 2005.
Ball State had four players finish in double digits, including Persons who had a team-high 19 and seven assists. Sellers finished with 15 and junior Trey Moses and Mallers finished with 12 points apiece.
"I think we've responded well," Whitford said. "We've got to stay with it, just stay the course. We have a chance to be as dangerous as anyone in this league come March.
"Our guys get that we're going through a little bit of a transition right now, but it's a long season and we're going to keep grinding and you're going to look up three to four weeks from now and we're going to be playing a lot better than we are now."
Ball State returns at noon on Jan. 27 to host Akron (10-9, 3-4 MAC) in Worthen Arena.