Ball State men's basketball aims to break a three-way tie for first place in the Mid-American Conference West Division Friday night.

The Cardinals (15-9, 6-5 MAC) host the Ohio Bobcats (14-8, 6-5 MAC) in their second straight matchup against an opponent from the MAC East. The Cardinals lost to conference leading Akron (20-4, 10-1 MAC) on a last second shot Tuesday Feb.7 and head coach James Whitford says this game can feel more important with where the season is.

“The challenge for us is to not make it bigger than it is,” Whitford said. “That pressure can work against you if you are not careful.”

Ball State stats:

Field goal percentage: 47.0

Field goal percentage defense: 41.5

Assists: 16.1

Leading scorer: Tayler Persons - 16.1

Ohio stats:

Field goal percentage: 45.5

Field goal percentage defense: 40.9

Assists: 14.2

Leading scorer: Jaaron Simmons - 14.6

Whitford’s philosophy for his team is simple.

“What we try to do is stay consumed with the process, lock in on getting better, prepare for the game the right way, and play to the best of our ability and live with our consequences,” Whitford said. “We certainly recognize it is a big game.”

Ohio redshirt junior guard Jaaron Simmons leads the MAC with 7.0 assists per game — two more than Ball State redshirt sophomore guard Tayler Persons (4.9 apg), who's third in the MAC.

“Jaaron Simmons is a Player of the Year candidate in the league,” Whitford said. “He is the guy that gets it all going.”

With a season-ending injury to senior forward Antonio Campbell, the Bobcats' big man and leading scorer, Simmons facilitates the offense with sharp shooter Kenny Kaminski and freshman forward Jason Carter.

Last season, Kaminski torched Ball State for 20 points and Whitford says Carter has made a seamless replacement for Campbell.

“The thing about Kenny Kaminski is he’s not only a good player, an all conference type player, but he is an atypical player,” Whitford said. “The Carter kid has really played well and he has some similar strength to Campbell.”

Kaminski is a 6-foot-8-inch forward but plays on the wing, creating a mismatch for most teams. In 11 conference games, Carter averages 10.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

Ball State senior forward Franko House, though, has been on a roll. Over the last five games he's averaging 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.4 blocks. House’s play will be crucial down the road for Ball State.

“You know, we have seven really big games left, and we have to think of it that way,” Whitford said.

Tip off is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Worthen Arena Friday. The game will be aired on the CBS Sports Network.