Dekalb, ill - From the look of things early in the first half, it seemed Ball State had Northern Illinois under control... until the Huskies slowly crept back to nag at the Cardinals the rest of the game. Ball State prevailed however, downing Northern Illinois, 86-81.
Ball State jumped to as big as a 12-point lead during the first half. By half time however, Northern brought the score within four points, 41-37.
Throughout the game, Northern took the lead once and tied the game twice. But the Huskies never left the Cardinals' side, staying within five points the majority of the second half.
"We are very proud of our teams effort in a tough environment," Ball State head coach Tim Buckley said. "We were really worried coming in here. Our guys played tonight with the respect they should have against Northern Illinois."
Junior Chris Williams, finished with a season-high 31 points, leading the team in scoring.
"He put on a show, on the free throw line especially. ... I was pleased to see," Buckley said. "I thought he showed great leadership tonight."
Williams said after he drove the ball trough the lane a few times, drawing fouls, he decided to continue driving the ball. By doing so Williams finished 13-13 from the free-throw line.
"He came up big for us tonight," Petie Jackson said. "With (Theron Smith) in foul trouble we needed that big boost on offense."
"Everything just sort of fell in place tonight," Williams said. "I tried to play a lot more aggressive tonight."
Not so successful in comparison to his average, Smith found himself in foul trouble the majority of the contest. Smith finished the game with four fouls, 10 points and only 3 rebounds - short of the junior's average of 19.8 points and 11.6 rebounds a game.
" 'T' Smith, who is arguably one of our best players, didn't play that well and found himself in foul trouble, but he willed his teammates to victory," Buckley said. "We love to see that."
Smith wasn't the only Cardinal in foul trouble throughout the night. Lonnie Jones fouled out with less than three minutes to go in the game. Robert Owens also had four fouls.
A couple of players aided Northern throughout the night. Leon Rodgers, No. 2 scorer in the MAC finished with a team-high 23 points. Marcus Smallwood finished with 20 points going 9-12 from the field.
"I thought we put our selves in a position to win in the last two minutes of the game," Northern Illinois head coach Rob Judson said. "We just couldn't come up with it in a couple of spots."
Northern's P.J. Smith drove the ball into the lane where senior Brian Burns took the charge allowing Ball State to regain possession of the ball. At the time Ball State was leading by only three points. After the charge, Northern was forced to foul Rob Robbins who sank both of his free throws.
Buckley was quite pleased with Burns' effort with not only the charge but also the entire game.
"It such a great thing for Brian to play the way he has this season," Buckley said. "He has always been a great contributor. To see him make play like he has really makes me proud of him."
Aside from the win, one rather bright spot for Ball State Tuesday night was the team's shooting behind the free-throw line. The Cardinals missed only two free throws for the game shooting 28-30 from the line.
"It's one of those things where we talked about getting to the line and making those free throws," Buckley said.