Senior center Trey Moses takes a shot at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, March 14, 2019. Rebecca Slezak, DN
Promising season fails to take off for Ball State Men's Basketball
That is what Ball State fans have been asking this entire season. After a successful 2018 season, in which the team upset No. 9 Notre Dame and picked up 19 wins along the way, expectations were high as the Cardinals entered their 2019 campaign.
There was promise from the Cardinals in non-conference play. The team held close with Purdue in Mackey Arena, only losing by nine to the then No. 24 Boilermakers. Senior guard Tayler Persons led the team with 19 points and eight rebounds on the night. Overall, it was a good showing by Ball State early in the season.
In the Charleston Classic, the team was challenged and only slipped once in a blowout game against Alabama. Persons put down 21 and junior forward Kyle Mallers had 19 against No. 16 Virginia Tech. The team also pulled off a thrilling overtime win against Appalachian State to end the tournament.
Back in the Midwest, the team rolled opponents from the Missouri Valley Conference, 4-1. This was highlighted by a 75-69 win over last year's Final Four contender, Loyola Chicago. Redshirt junior guard K.J. Walton flexed for 22 points in the upset win.
By the time Mid-American Conference play came about, Ball State was 9-4 and looked in good shape. The team had a small hiccup in the absence of redshirt sophomore guard Brachen Hazen, who was out due to a back injury from early December to early February.
The Cardinals kicked off MAC play with a statement throttling of Toledo, 79-64. The Rockets had only lost one game that season and were undefeated at home. Ball State grounded Toledo's hot shooters and took over from there. Persons downed 20 in the win.
Then things began to slip for Ball State. In the MAC home-opener, the Cardinals went down to the wire with Eastern Michigan, falling to the Eagles in overtime. Free-throw shooting was the difference as the the Cardinals could not make their shots. Senior center Trey Moses went 4-15 at the line in the loss.
From there, the team would go on a losing streak, dropping six of seven games. Four of those games were decided by less than six points. A three pointer fell short to Bowling Green, Miami made their free throws, a late three pushed Ohio ahead and a buzzer beater clinched the game in overtime for Kent State.
However, there were some blowouts. The team was overmatched by Ohio on Jan. 12, as they would score 18 points in the first half. Against No. 18 Buffalo, the Cardinals shot for a low 8 percent from three and turned over the ball 18 times on the night.
The team did pick up a mid-season swing in a final second win over Northern Illinois. The team went on to win two more and saw some good things. Mallers led the team in points and Hazen returned against Western Michigan. Against Akron, the team stood tall against the best defensive team in the MAC. Suddenly the Cardinals were in a race for a BYE in the conference tournament.
However, things began to tumble down again as the team would drop five of their last six games of the regular season. The Cardinals almost pulled off a late game comeback against Miami, but the majority of the games were substantial defeats. A tight win over Western Michigan lifted hopes, but Ball State would lock in at the No. 11 seed to end the regular season.
With their backs against the wall and traveling to face Eastern Michigan in the first round of the MAC tournament, the Cardinals grinded to upset the Eagles and punched their ticket to Cleveland. The team limited Eastern to only 14 points in the second half.
That momentum was short lived as the Cardinals were wiped out by No. 3 Bowling Green in the MAC quarterfinals, 99-86, to end their season at a game below .500. This season's finish was the worst since 2015, where they won only seven games.
The team will be losing Persons, Moses and senior forward Austin Nehls this upcoming season, three pairs of shoes that need to be filled. The team has also proven to struggle when they aren't healthy as they have lost key players throughout the season due to injury.
This season was built up for Ball State and it never reached its expectations. Heading into the offseason, there are many unanswered questions for this team still searching for its identity.