After a nip-and-tug-type game, it was back-to-back baskets by Petie Jackson that opened the floodgates for Ball State in the final three minutes of Wednesday's game against Bowling Green.
Ball State essentially held its own free-throw shooting clinic after Jackson's baskets, going 17-18 from the charity stripe to defeat the Falcons, 92-79.
Despite 36 points by Bowling Green's (13-2 overall, 3-1 Mid-American Conference) Keith McLeod - the leading scorer in the MAC - it was Ball State's resiliency at the free-throw line that carried the Cardinals to its fourth-straight win. The loss for Bowling Green marked the end of a 12-game winning streak as the Falcons came into Wednesday's contest with a record of 13-1.
Leading Ball State was Theron Smith. Smith marked his 10th double-double for the season and his fourth-straight such performance. Smith tallied a good deal of his points from the free-throw line as the junior shot only 3-5 from the field, two of which were 3-pointers.
Smith finished the game 15-18 from the free-throw line with 23 points.
"He is one of our most unselfish guys," head coach Tim Buckley said. "He is one of the most intelligent players I have ever coached. He has a great feel for the game.
"But you saw tonight, he didn't get a lot of touches but he made them pay at the free-throw line. When you are a great player like he is you aren't always going to get them from the field and you have to go to the line to get the points."
Smith's teammate, Chris Williams, agreed with Buckley complimenting Smith's performance.
"'T' is a great player," Williams said. "Most players get frustrated taking five shots. For him to walk away with only five shots and 23 points and 15 rebounds says a lot. You can't ask for anything else from him."
Williams fared pretty well himself Wednesday night. The guard finished with 18 points, 12 of which came from behind the three-point arc.
The leading scorer for the Cardinals, however, was neither Smith nor Williams: It was Jackson.
The senior finished with 24 points, going 7-11 from the field and 2-6 from behind the three-point line.
Aside from Ball State's sharp shooting, it was Bowling Green's lack of sharp shooting that also led the Cardinals to the win. The Falcons finished 27-71 from the field, shooting 38 percent from the field.
"I thought Ball State is about as a good a team we have played all year," Dan Dakich, Bowling Green's head coach, said. "Their shots went in at crucial times and ours did not."
Buckley applauded Lonnie Jones' performance. Jones made his presence known under the basket with five points and five rebounds. Buckley wasn't pleased with those numbers, however; it was the 7-foot center's defense that impressed the second-year coach.
"The big key for us defensively, and this won't show up on the stat sheet, he just did a tremendous job of playing position defense," Buckley said. "Lonnie won't get credit for it, but he distracted a lot of shots - probably more than he blocked."
The win marked another MAC win, now Ball State's fourth-straight.
"When it comes to MAC season we are going to do whatever it takes to win," Jackson said. "Tonight we came out and kept the game close in the first half. It is a credit to the team and coaching staff that we are getting better at that."
Buckley was pleased with the MAC win, but also pleased with his team's performance at home. Ball State is now 5-1 at home losing only to Butler on Dec. 19.
"We felt like this was a game for us to take another step," Buckley said. "We didn't play well at home last year but now I see our team progressing."