DeKALB, Ill. – With just four Mid-American Conference games left on the schedule, Ball State University is in first place in the West division and there is at least one opposing coach who expects it to stay there.
Ball State (13-11, 7-5) is tied with Central Michigan University (12-12, 7-5) after each team scored victories this weekend. Ball State defeated Northern Illinois University 71-66 on Saturday. Central Michigan beat the University of Toledo 63-46.
After the Cardinals gritted out a key road victory against the Huskies (8-16, 4-8), Northern Illinois coach Ricardo Patton gave an endorsement – albeit a soft one – to the visitors.
"A lot of it depends on where the game's played," Patton said. "Most good teams don't lose at home. Both of those teams are really good teams. They have guys that have been pretty consistent most of the year."
The Cardinals will host the Chippewas on Wednesday night in Worthen Arena in a game that will determine who has the upper hand in the division. The winner of Wednesday's meeting will have the advantage in tie-breakers and essentially take a two-game lead in the division with three to play. Central Michigan beat Ball State 53-38 in the first matchup between the teams. Since that game, Ball State is 7-3 and has turned their offense around.
Point guard Randy Davis said it was important for the Cardinals to start the final stretch of conference play with a win.
"We're kind of in a race right now with Central," Davis said. "To get the first game kind of gives us a little cushion, but we know they're going to be right on us."
Davis played a big role in that, scoring 20 points to lead the Cardinals on Saturday. The sophomore played a big role in helping Ball State to their first win in nine days.
After dropping a pair of games last week to MAC East leaders University of Akron and Kent State University, coach Billy Taylor knew his team had to rebound from the defeats.
"This game obviously had a lot of importance to us," Taylor said. "I thought we came out prepared and did a really nice job."
With the race between Ball State and Central Michigan heating up, Davis knows the Cardinals can't let down at all in their final four conference games.
"They did a real good job the first time around," he said. "So we can't expect them to fall off."