Ball State suffered its first loss of the season to Evansville by four Saturday. However, if you wound the clock back to halftime, the margin of defeat would seem near impossible.
Down 40-18 to the Purple Aces at halftime, and by as many as 25 points in the first half, Ball State Men's Basketball (1-1, 0-0 MAC) rallied off 57 points in the second half to give Evansville (1-0, 0-0 MVC) a run for its money. However, the first-half deficit set the Cardinals back too far and handed them their first loss of the season, 79-75.
"It was a tale of two halves, obviously," head coach James Whitford said in a radio interview. "In the first half, they made shots early out of the jump, and made their first three threes and we missed our first three or four. I thought we were playing fine. We got rattled, and that led to really poor play."
The Purple Aces went on a handful of runs, highlighted by freshman forward DeAndre Williams' 15 points. Ball State shot 24 percent from the field and 11 percent from 3-point range, compared to Evansville's 49 percent shooting and 46 percent from deep.
"We started looking at the score, saying, 'Hey, we're getting our butt kicked,' and getting away from the things we were supposed to do," Whitford said. "We were trying to get things back individually and not collectively, and that's what we talked about at halftime. We didn't change anything we did. We just talked about doing the things we know how to do better."
According to ESPN, with Evansville going up 45-20 in the start of the second half, the Purple Aces had a 99.4 percent chance to win. After junior guard K.J. Riley made a free throw to go up by a quarter of 100, that line of victory slowly began to fall.
Junior guard Ishmael El-Amin and redshirt senior guard Josh Thompson combined for three straight shots from deep to cut the Cardinals' deficit down to 16. Whitford said while he didn't get too much playing time in the final minutes, Thompson's performance in the mid second half was key in helping the team to a comeback.
"We didn't play Josh much after that run, and it wasn't anything that he did, but he brought pick and rolls that we wanted to bring," Whitford said. "It's a good problem to have. He's a good player, and we're looking for more ways to get him on the court more."
With five minutes left and the Cardinals down by 15, Ball State went on a 22-7 run to pull within one point of Evansville in the final minute. Redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague went off in the second half for 18 points to finish with a team-high 20 on the night. He would also finish with eight rebounds and four assists for the cardinal and white.
In addition to the Cardinals' offensive outburst in the second half, the team was able to shut down Williams from producing anymore. The forward finished with 26 points and nine rebounds before fouling out. Whitford commended his performance, saying if he performs the same way over the course of the next 30 games, he could be in the NBA.
With four seconds left and a chance to take the lead, El-Amin let off a shot from deep outside the arc, but the ball fell just right of the rim. Evansville put down four free throws in the final seconds and survived a potential Cardinal comeback.
Despite missing the potential game-winning shot, El-Amin finished with 15 points on the night and shot for a team-high 50 percent from outside the arc. Other Cardinals that broke into double figures include senior forward Kyle Mallers (11) and redshirt freshman Jarron Coleman (10). Ball State faces Illinois-Chicago in Chicago Tuesday.