Sellers breaks record, Ball State falls to Western Michigan on Senior Night
On a night that had the fifth-highest attendance numbers in Worthen Arena over the past 10 years, Ball State men's basketball (19-10, 10-6 MAC) fell to Western Michigan (17-12, 9-7 MAC) on Senior Night.
Western Michigan finished the game on a 13-6 run to end Ball State's five-game winning streak.
"Western Michigan played a great game," head coach James Whitford said. "I told my team in the locker room that I thought we competed. I thought we played as a team. I thought we tried to play the game the right way. I thought we played a little tight. You could sense it at the free-throw line. We played almost like 'Oh no, something could go wrong,' but I didn't fault our effort by any stretch of the imagination."
Whitford was referring to the 13-21 performance from the free-throw line when he said the team looked tight. Down the stretch of the 87-80 loss, Ball State missed three-out-of-four free throws when the game was tied at 74 with three minutes to play, including an uncharacteristic pair of misses in a critical moment from junior guard Tayler Persons.
Senior guard Sean Sellers started the night off with a bang for Ball State, connecting on his 225th 3-pointer just five minutes into the game to break Jesse Berry's record for the most made triples in school history. He quickly followed that up with another shot from beyond the arc just 34 seconds later as he was on fire early, and Ball State had seized the momentum.
"I'm glad it's over with," Sellers said. "Everyone was kind of talking about it before the game, and I don't really want to make it about the record or myself. But it's rewarding at the same time, and like I said earlier in the week, I get a lot of those good looks because these guys are putting me in a good position to shoot good shots, and more times than not, I'm going to make those."
Leading by as many as 10 points, the Cardinals couldn't sustain their momentum in front of the season-best 5,924 fans in attendance.
At the end of the night, Ball State was plagued by the 15 turnovers it committed, including an unusual five from junior center Trey Moses, who is second on the team in assists behind Persons. Moses and sophomore forward Tahjai Teague still did their usual work on offense, shooting a combined 16-20 from the field, but Teague had to play limited minutes due to foul trouble down the stretch. Moses finished with his eighth double-double of conference play with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while Teague still led all scorers with 24 points in just 25 minutes, including a career-high three made 3-pointers. Teague will look to mark this one up as a learning experience and get back in the gym.
"You just come back and work on getting better at practice," Teague said. "You just take it as a lesson and move on. Just keep working.
"... I'm just really mad about my free throw shooting, it's like the worst I've ever shot, to me, at the free-throw line, so I felt like I lost us the game because of that, but I just have to get back in the gym, keep shooting them and keep working."
Teague finished with a 3-8 performance from the free-throw line.
With all of the history that was in the making at Worthen Arena, Whitford said it might have been too big of a night for the team. The Cardinals came into the night just one win away from tying the school record for home wins in a season. Instead, they'll likely finish one shy at 14-2 unless they somehow miss out on a first-round bye in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, which could give them another opportunity to reach the 15th home victory.
For Whitford, a bye is of course still the ideal outcome, and the team still controls its own destiny, holding a one-game lead over Western Michigan for the third seed in the conference standings.
Tonight's game was the first time all season that Ball State has lost a game in which it shot above 50 percent from the floor. The difference was the team's defense. Western Michigan shot 51 percent from the floor, an unusual night for Ball State, who entered the night allowing its conference opponents to shoot just 41 percent from the floor, the second-best mark in the league.
"Our offense was fine, it was giving up 87 points at home to Western Michigan that was difference," Whitford said. "The difference between tonight and all of the other home games was that."
Ball State will have the chance to get back on track Tuesday when the team travels to Central Michigan. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.