Ball State University's time as the No. 1 team in the Mid-American Conference West Division didn't last long.
The Cardinals have played the No. 6, No. 18 and No. 21 teams in the country this season, but none of them were able to frustrate Ball State as much as Kent State University was able to last night.
The Cardinals lost 76-42 to the host Golden Flashes, as Ball State's disastrous combination of stale offense and slow defense doomed the team from the opening tip and led to its worst loss of the season.
"They're certainly embarrassed," coach Billy Taylor said of his team. "They wanted to play better than that. They wanted to come in here and play to a high level. Kent's been playing great basketball, so we wanted to come out and put our best foot forward and we don't feel we like we did that."
Against Kent State, Ball State looked more like the team that began MAC play 0-2 than the one that entered the game winners of six of its last eight games.
The Cardinals converted just 15-of-52 (28.8 percent) shots from the field and turned the ball over 19 times against the Golden Flashes, number similar to Ball State's first two MAC games – losses to Northern Illinois University and Central Michigan University. In those games the Cardinals averaged just 43 points and shot a combined 26 percent from the field.
"Tonight we took a step back, but we have to take two steps forward now," sophomore center Jarrod Jones said. "It happens sometimes. You just have to bounce back."
Neither team looked like it was going to runaway with the victory after the first few minutes of the game, as the Cardinals and the Golden Flashes combined to shoot 1-for-11 to open the contest.
A layup from senior forward Terrence Watson gave Ball State a 2-0 lead at the 17:12 mark in the first half. This score remained until Kent State finally got on the board with a jumper from senior guard Chris Singletary tie it at two with 15:29 remaining.
After that point, the Golden Flashes went on a 15-5 run over the next nine-and-a-half minutes to take a 17-7 lead with 6:03 left in the first half.
Ball State then went on an 8-0 run of its own to come within two at 17-15 off a jumper from sophomore guard Randy Davis at the 4:13 mark, but Kent State stole the momentum back, this time for the rest of the game. The Flashes ended the half on a 13-6 spurt to lead by nine, 30-21, going into halftime.
"Kent is an excellent ballclub," Taylor said. "Their kids really played hard. They battled back from a slow start offensively."
Kent State's offense kept motoring in the second half and never really stopped.
The Golden Flashes (18-7, 9-2 MAC) shot 53.3 percent from the field in the second half, including 5-for-9 (55.6 percent) from 3-point range.
Ball State, meanwhile, countered with 28 percent second-half shooting, including an 0-for-9 performance from 3-point land.
"We're down 10 at halftime, and I thought it was still a reasonable margin to fight back and make it a game," Taylor said. "But as we started to make mistakes in the second half things compounded, and we really showed a kind of youth and not the mentality we needed to have in order to be successful here tonight."
Davis, senior forward Terrence Watson and freshman guard Jauwan Scaife tied for team-high honors with eight points apiece for the Cardinals. Jones added six points and a team-high eight rebounds.
For Kent State, Singletary and senior forward Anthony Simpson led four players in double-digits with a game-high 11 points. Sophomore forward Justin Greene had a double-double with 10 points and a game-best 10 rebounds while freshman guard Randal Holt also added 10 points.
Despite the worst loss in the Billy Taylor era, Ball State (12-11, 6-5 MAC) ended with a successful tour against the MAC East Division, going 4-2 against its cross-divisional opponents. It is just its third winning season against the East since divisional play began in the 1997-98 season.
The Cardinals return to MAC West play Saturday when they travel to DeKalb, Ill., to take on Northern Illinois. The Cardinals look to avenge a 62-48 loss to the Huskies at Worthen Arena on Jan. 9.