Even Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora put her face in her hands as she witnessed the Cardinals self-destruct from her front-row seat Thursday night at Worthen Arena.
Ball State had built a 13-point lead with 10:23 remaining of its game against Bowling Green State University before going on a nearly six-minute scoring drought as the Falcons eventually crept back within two, 51-49, with 3:11 remaining in regulation.
But senior forward Terrence Watson hit two free throws at the 2:09 mark to relieve some of the pressure, and freshman guard Jauwan Scaife followed with a 3-pointer to bring the life back into his team as the Cardinals hung on for a 64-59 win over the Falcons to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games.
"I thought it just gave us all confidence," Scaife said. "When Randy [Davis] drove the ball, I just tried to find a gap, and once he kicked it, I just shot it with confidence."
Scaife said he thought his team fell asleep on offense midway through the second half because it simply wasn't being as aggressive as it was leading up to that point.
"I think we might've just tried to slow the game down a little bit," he said. "Maybe we didn't attack spots that we could've a little bit more. I think we kind of slowed down on that, but we tried to find a rhythm at the end there, and we pulled out the win."
Bowling Green coach Louis Orr said his team fought hard enough to win, but didn't play smart enough basketball to come away with the road victory.
He said Ball State's defense forced Bowling Green to play outside-in instead of inside-out, and the Falcons struggled shooting the ball from deep, hitting just 4-of-21 (19 percent) of their 3-point attempts.
"I just wish we had played a little smarter," Orr said. "We shot too many 3s. We play inside-out, we've got to attack the basket, and I think that's one of the things that Ball State's good at – they get you to play outside-in and they protect the lane, and that's not our M.O."
Bowling Green did dominate play in the paint, particularly on the offensive glass. The Falcons out-rebounded the Cardinals 43-37, including a 19-9 offensive rebounding advantage. Bowling Green also outscored Ball State 39-29 in the paint.
"We didn't rebound the ball, obviously, as well as we would've liked," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. "We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds."
Despite the discrepancies in the paint, Taylor said he was pleased to see Ball State close out another close conference game.
"We work on situations in practice, late-game situations," he said. "These MAC games are typically pretty tight, and it goes down to the last four, five minutes, so I'm just thankful that our guys have been making enough of the right plays and right decisions."
Davis led the way for the Cardinals (12-9, 6-3 Mid-American Conference) with a game-high 18 points and four assists to just one turnover in 33 minutes of action. Three other Ball State players scored in double-digits: Watson had 14 points and nine rebounds, sophomore center Jarrod Jones earned a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Scaife added 10 points.
For the Falcons (11-10, 4-5 MAC), junior guard Joe Jakubowski and sophomore guard Dee Brown each scored a team-high 13 points. Sophomore forward Scott Thomas had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but was held in check on offense, connecting on just 5-of-15 shots from the field, including 0-for-7 from 3-point range.
Ball State's four-game winning streak is the first for the program since January 2004, when the Cardinals won five straight conference games.
"That means we're going in the right direction," Taylor said. "We've had some success. We certainly don't want to be satisfied with that success – we're pleased about it and I think we're playing some pretty good basketball now."
The Cardinals attempt to win that fifth straight game tomorrow as reigning MAC Tournament Champion University of Akron comes to Worthen Arena for a noon tipoff.