HEARTBREAKER

It was reminiscent of a scene from a movie - the ball went up, the buzzer went off and the ball bounced twice on the rim. It left the crowd, the players and the coaches in limbo.

The shot took the first bounce, and a ray of hope lit the eyes of the players as the ball bounced straight up and hit the iron a second time. The crowd silenced, and then it missed.

As the ball fell to the ground, Ball State's hopes of securing a Mid-American Conference West division title Wednesday night fell with it. Also falling to the ground was Petie Jackson, Billy Lynch and Brian Burns as the three seniors fell to their knees as their final home game ended with a devastating final-second defeat by Northern Illinois, 69-68.

"One of our assistants said the game lasted 42 minutes because that ball hung on that rum for about two minutes before it fell off," Northern Illinois head coach Rob Judson said. "We feel really fortunate to have won this game. Ball State is an excellent team. The ball bounced our way in the last minute and we just came out with the win."

The shot, put up by Lynch, came after the guard tugged down a rebound after a missed open three-point shot by junior Theron Smith.

"What was going through my head when I put it up was, 'put it up before the horn sounds,'" Lynch said. "I don't know if I should have went and just laid it in or kicked it out. As far as the rebound, I was just trying to get it up before the buzzer."

According to head coach Tim Buckley, there was more than the final shot that went wrong for the Cardinals Wednesday night.

"I felt like we didn't come to play tonight," Buckley said. "I don't know, I can't explain it. I'm trying to figure it out. I felt like I was begging - not coaching but begging."

The Cardinals had trouble finding success from the field all night. Ball State (18-10 overall, 11-6 MAC) shot only 35 percent from the field for the game and only 28 percent from three-point land.

"(Coach) said before the game he felt like we were playing with confidence," Lynch said. "He said that's a good thing. But confidence becomes cockiness when you don't bring focus and effort.

"I guess we will have to watch the tape to see if we had that effort, but obviously that effort wasn't there. The free-throw shooting is a tale of that."

Down the stretch it was the charity stripe that hurt the Cardinals the most as the team missed seven of its last 13 free throws.

"There was lack of focus the entire game," Buckley said. "It's pretty hard to turn that focus on when you get to the free-throw line at the end of the game."

One player who seemed to play with a bit more focus for Ball State was junior guard Rob Robbins, who finished with 16 points for the night. Robbins tallied 12 of those points from behind the three-point arc. He also went 2-2 from the free-throw line and hit his first field goal of the season after grabbing one of his four rebounds.

"He is one of the guys on the team whose attitude never waivers," Buckley said. "He deserved the opportunity. He obviously responded to that challenge."

Even after the strong performance, Robbins remained solemn after the loss Wednesday night.

"Obviously it's great to play and great to get in the game and contribute," he said. "But, we wanted to send our seniors out tonight on a winning note. It's just disappointing we couldn't do that for them."

Judson said he was aware of Robbins' shooting ability but attributed some of his success to his team's lacking defense.

"We knew he could shoot, and we left him open twice," Judson said. "The third time he was way out there. He shot that from Anderson. He was the spark that turned the game around for them. When we were able to guard him it was a good thing and also when he was out of the game it was a good thing. That was our best defense."

Wednesday's game served as Ball State's second home loss of the season. Afterwards Buckley was left nearly speechless, saying the defeat was "right there" with some of his team's most disappointing losses of the season.


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