A slow start proved to be too much for Ball State to overcome as it dropped its second Mid-American Conference game of the season on Saturday.

Ball State (11-6, 2-2 MAC) trailed by as many as 20 points against Western Michigan (11-6, 3-1 MAC) as the Cardinals lost for the second times in three games, 73-58. The Broncos got on the board first and led for the remaining 39:34. Midway through the first half, Western Michigan held a 16-point lead off an 8-11 shooting performance, a start that head coach James Whitford said was key in the game. 

"I thought it kind of rocked us back on our heels," Whitford said in a postgame interview. "But I was proud of our guys. I thought we kept competing all the way through, shared the ball and tried to play the game the right way and just had a tough night."

One of the guys who didn't want to stop competing was Tayler Persons, who rolled his ankle in the first quarter. After returning in the second half, Persons winced in pain going up and down the court, eventually running into teammate Tahjai Teague which forced Whitford to call a timeout to get the Cardinal's leading scorer out of the game. 

As freshman Ishmael El-Amin came to replace Persons, the junior guard yelled "No!" While he left at that point in the game, with just over five minutes remaining, Persons would eventually return as Ball State went on an 11-2 run that cut Western Michigan's lead down to 10 late in the game. Persons finished with a team-high 13 points followed by El-Amin who had 11. Senior Sean Sellers finished with nine points, including a 3-pointer that pushed him past the 1,000th mark on his career. 

Ball State struggled to get much offense going throughout the game, turning the ball over 15 times  compared to Western Michigan's eight. Ball State, who shot 28.6 percent (8-28), was once again outplayed behind the arc as Western Michigan finished shooting 50 percent (9-18). 

"We didn't defend the 3 well and I'm going to have to watch it to figure out how they shot 50 percent," Whitford said. "You know, the story of our team is that we defend around the rim really well, we struggled behind the arc.

"In the four conference games, we've given up almost 50 percent. That's something we have to correct because I thought, other than that, for the most part our defense was pretty good." 

Western Michigan's spread the ball out well scoring with eight different players and finishing with three players - Thomas Wilder (14), Bryce Moore (12) and Josh Davis (11) - finishing in double digits. The Broncos also took advantage of the Cardinal's mistakes, scoring 18 points off turnovers and 12 second chance points in the 15-point victory. Comparatively, Ball State had just eight points off turnovers and 10 second chance points.

Ball State returns home for its next game against against Central Michigan (12-5, 1-3 MAC) on Jan. 16. 

Contact men's basketball reporter Robby General at rjgeneral@bsu.edu or on Twitter @rgeneraljr.