Sean Sellers kept the fans at Worthen Arena on the edge of their seats.
In Ball State’s 77-68 victory over Northern Illinois, the senior guard/forward started off quiet, scoring just two points in nearly 27 minutes of game time. At the 13:07 mark in the second half, however, Sellers hit his first 3-pointer of the night — a no-doubter from the corner right in front of Ball State’s bench. It was after that shot when the Cardinals went on a 20-6 run to turn a three-point lead into 17 in the span of about four minutes.
During that period, Sellers found himself open once again and nailed another deep ball, tying Ball State’s all-time career 3-point record of 224 held by Jesse Berry.
For Whitford, it wasn't Sellers who started the Cardinals hottest stretch of the night, it was their play style and speed that shifted.
"We were able to go defense to offense and our pace was really good," head coach James Whitford said. "I thought in that stretch we were really playing fast and we were able to get out on offense. The faster we play in situations like that, the better."
Still, the next few possessions after the run began the crowd realized how close Sellers was to breaking the record, anticipating the basket that seals the deal on each possession.
“You’re hot Sean, shoot it,” one fan yelled.
“Put it up from there,” another one said on the ensuing possession.
Then, of course, there was the collective “Awh,” shared among some of the 3,745 fans at Worthen Arena after Sellers missed what would be his last 3-point shot attempt of the night. The rest of the game would be spent in anticipation, but Sellers, and Ball State faithfuls, will have to wait at least one more game to see the record snapped.
"It's hard, the last one Kyle [Mallers] threw to me, I caught it and I knew I was tied," Sellers said. "I thought about it and obviously I missed it. ... Those are the worst ones to shoot because you think about it."
Watching Sellers play the remainder of the game, one wouldn't think he was one shot short of an all-time 3-point record. His ball movement and rotation play style continued as Ball State seemingly found everyone on its way to a game-high 23-point lead later in the half.
Sellers finished the contest with 12 points, two assists and two steals in his 32 minutes of action. Junior center Trey Moses earned another double-double on the night, scoring a team-high 23 points and 12 rebounds on the night. He also had three early blocks and went 7-9 from the free throw line.
Junior Tayler Persons and sophomore Tahjai Teague also finished in double digits, scoring 14 and 13, respectively. Teague had nine rebounds, falling one short of finishing with what could've been his sixth double-double in eight games.
For Northern Illinois, the Mid-American Conference's leading scorer Eugene German put up a game-high 25 points. Coming into the game the sophomore guard was averaging 20.5 points per contest. Even with the prolific scorer, the Huskies aren't an outside shooting team and Trey Moses knew that early on, protecting the paint with three blocks as the Cardinals pulled off to an 8-0 lead in the first few minutes of game time.
"We knew they had a couple of guys who like to shoot it, but for the most part, they're not really a 3-point shooting team," Moses said. "They're drive heavy and I feel like me and Tahj[ai] did a really good job at protecting the paint tonight."
Teague recorded a block on the night and despite allowing 40 points in the paint, the big man duo of Moses and Teague limited the Huskies to 68 points on 60 shot attempts on the night.
While Whitford admitted that he's not concerned about the Mid-American Conference standings, tonight's win - which marks five in-a-row and seven of eight for Ball State - makes things even more interesting moving into the final three games. With both Toledo (19-9, 11-4 MAC) and Buffalo (20-8, 12-3 MAC) losing tonight, Ball State sits just one game outside of second and two games outside of first place in the overall conference.
Still, Whitford says he's just focused on Friday's matchup where he wants his team to get back to rebounding and wearing teams out inside while continuing to play strong defense.
"That's not easy to do and it's certainly not going to be easy to do Friday against Western who's very physical," Whitford said. "We have to be able to do those things every night. If we do that, then we'll see where it all stands at the end."
Ball State and Western Michigan (16-12, 8-7 MAC) face-off at 9 p.m. on Feb. 23 inside Worthen Arena.