Central Michigan took an 8-7 lead with 14:21 to go in the first half. It was short lived as Ball State’s Ishmael El-Amin nailed a 3-pointer 17 seconds later.
Then, 30 minutes passed. It wasn’t until then that the Chippewas (19-8, 8-6 MAC) regained the advantage. They kept it for the remaining three and a half minutes to escape with a 64-57 win over the Cardinals (14-13, 5-9 MAC).
“I thought the defense was good for 35 minutes,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “I thought we had a couple possessions there late that were not good at all.”
By the end of the first half, the Cardinals’ defense made it look promising they would bounce back after a three-point loss to Miami (Ohio) four days prior. Ten forced turnovers, seven steals and five blocked shots later, and the Cardinals went into the locker room with a 34-23 lead.
Senior center Trey Moses had three of the team’s five blocks, and he said they had a good game plan going into Saturday’s matchup.
“We knew coming in that they were going to try and pick on matchups they like and pretty much iso it,” Moses said. “We really just try to pack the paint on the iso.”
The second half is when the wheels fell off. The Cardinals shot less than 30 percent from the field in the half with a 0.29 assist-turnover ratio. While the defense played well, Whitford said the offense needs to put the ball in the basket.
“We’re really struggling on offense. We’re struggling to shoot the ball, and that’s been the Achille’s heel,” Whitford said. “Defensively, we’re playing as well as anyone in the conference. We’ve got to find a way to score.”
The Cardinals have now held their opponents to fewer than 70 points in their last four games. Moses said that could be credited to the team’s list of injured players reducing. Redshirt sophomore forward Brachen Hazen made his return in early February, El-Amin came back Saturday after nearly a two-month absence and sophomore forward Zach Gunn has dressed for the Cardinals’ last two contests.
Moses added that the team is ready for the final four games of the regular season and it will be confident heading into every one of them.
“It’s very important that we stay with it,” Moses said. “I feel like now that we have everybody back, we’re going to be one of the better defensive teams in the league.”
Foul trouble also plagued the Cardinals in the second half as they sent the Chippewas to the line 16 times. Three Cardinals, including two starters, had four fouls before the eight-minute mark, and redshirt junior Tahjai Teague fouled out with two minutes remaining.
“In the first half, we did our job. We just started fouling too much in the second half. I think that got our spirits down,” Teague said. “We’re trying to play good offense, and when we [weren’t] scoring, we [were] letting them score too easy.”
With four games left on the schedule, the Cardinals have a chance to be .500 in conference if they win out. Whitford said it all comes down to the team’s attitude.
“This is the challenge of sports,” Whitford said. “You can handle it a couple different ways, and we got to handle it the right way. We all know we’re a better team than we played today, and we got to continue to believe that … There is a good team in there, and I got to find a way to get it out here down the stretch.”
Ball State will host Toledo Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Worthen Arena.