Ball State was never out of it. The Cardinals went down by nine twice to the Miners before rallying back to keep the game competitive, going on a 15-7 run in the final three minutes to pull within one of UTEP. 

However, another strong shooting performance from the opposition and a long scoring drought in the second half proved costly for Ball State Men's Basketball (6-6, 0-0 MAC) in a 71-70 loss to UTEP (9-3, 0-0 C-USA). 

“We competed our tail off,” head coach James Whitford said in a press release. “We played a very good team. We had a lot of adversity against us, and we battled all the way through. We put ourselves in position to win the game … Nothing to hang our head about.”

Ball State saw another standout performance from redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague, who drained 14 points and collected eight pulldowns. This is the second straight game in which Teague lead in points and rebounds, collecting 20 points and 11 rebounds in the loss to No. 22 Washinton on Sunday. 

Redshirt freshman guard Jarron Coleman and junior guard Ishmael El-Amin continue to stand out as offensive weapons for the Cardinals as both would knock down 14 points for Ball State. El-Amin complimented his performance with five rebounds and three assists. 

One area that Ball State had capitalized on from start to finish was the Miners inability to hold onto the ball. By halftime, UTEP had turned over the ball 14 times for 15 Ball State points. The pace of turnovers did not slowdown in the second half as the miners would collect nine more for a total of 23 on the night. Four of those turnovers came in the final three minutes of the game.

Redshirt senior guard K.J. Walton shoots past a UTEP player in a game against the Miners on Dec. 23 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Cardinals fell to the Miners, 71-70. Ball State Athletics, photo provided 

 While the Miners consistent turning over of the ball gave the Cardinals opportunities the team struggled to convert. In the first half, Ball State shot 2-12 from deep while UTEP shot a 4-13 from outside the arc. In addition, the Miners shot from 66 percent from field goal to Ball State's 46 in the first half. 

Both teams would finish the game with six made 3-pointers, but Ball State had missed a handful more than UTEP. The Cardinals also lost one of its top shooters in senior forward Kyle Mallers after he went down with an injury and had to be taken to the locker room just under the midway point of the first half. Mallers stands as the fifth player this season to sustain an injury and the second who was absent from this game. 

The game didn't start out in the Cardinals favor as the Miners would jump out to a 17-8 lead just over halfway through the first half. Ball State would go on a 7-2 run, eventually leading them to a 31-31 tie heading into halftime. 

The second half opened up with Ball State jumping out on a 9-0 run. However, UTEP would quickly respond with a 6-0 run and pull within one. Down the stretch, the Miners began to hit their 3's and Ball State struggled to respond. This would eventually lead to a three-minute scoring drought for the Cardinals over the course of the last five minutes.  

The Cardinals would find a way to climb back in it off of efficient shooting from the free-throw line. The team shot for 86 percent on the night, downing 18-21 at the foul line. However, the team couldn't find a tie or a lead. A made throw by UTEP's Bryson Williams gave the Miners a four-point lead with two seconds left and the eventual win. 

Ball State narrows out to 6-6 on the season, dropping back-to-back games for the second time this season. Cardinals will face Portland on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU. The Pilots have suffered losses to Bosie State and Houston in the tournament. This is the second straight year Ball State will be playing in the last place game of a tournament. 

Contact Jack Williams with any comments at or on Twitter @jackgwilliams.