Just over the halfway point of the first half in the Cardinal's matchup against the Rockets, redshirt senior forward Tahjai Teague would commit his third. As the forward would sit, there wasn't much panic from the Ball State bench as he has averaged around three fouls per game this season.
Starting off the second half, looking to capitalize on an eight-point lead, Teague was back on the court. However, just 30 ticks after the half had started, Teague was back on the bench and Ball State was suddenly without its leading scorer yet again.
He would only see the court for 10 more minutes in the second half, with Ball State down the entire time and would eventually foul out in the final minute. Playing a conference season-low 18 minutes and recording seven points, his absence was felt on the court as Ball State Men's Basketball (16-13, 9-7 MAC) fell to Toledo (15-14, 7-9 MAC) 69-63.
"There was no question that his [Teague] fouling effected us," head coach James Whitford said in a radio interview. "There were two things that really affected us. One, he [Teague] didn't get to play much and two they [Toledo] shot 27 free throws. We outscored them in the field, but they outscored us on the foul line."
As Teague stood as one of the few Cardinals that could match 6-foot-11-inch Luke Knapke, without Teague in the equation, Knapke had free range to do damage on the court. The center fell two points shy of his career-high for 31 points, shooting 66 percent from the field. He would also shoot 71 percent from the line, second behind Marreon Jackson, who was 7-8 from the foul line.
Mixed with the accuracy of Knapke and Jackson at the line, the Rockets would knock down 19 points off of free-throws, shooting 15-20 alone in the second half. Ball State would pick up 16 fouls in that half alone, seeing Teague and senior forward Kyle Mallers foul out. Redshirt sophomore forward Miryne Thomas would commit four and junior guard Ishmael El-Amin would commit three.
This is the second time in the Cardinals last four games that Teague has fallen into foul trouble, the opponent has gone to the foul line more than 20 times and Ball State has lost. Against Buffalo on Feb. 18, Teague would play 26 minutes, but eventually, fouled out with a season-low four points. The Bulls would shoot 16-21 at the line and defeat the Cardinals by 13.
In Teague's absence, Ball State did see strong production from its bench, outscoring Toledo 19-1. Redshirt junior guard Brachen Hazen led the bench charge with eight points, shooting 3-7 from the field. Redshirt freshman guard Kani Acree would finish with a career-high nine rebounds as well. Ball State also outscored the Rockets 34-22 in the paint.
"I thought we really competed and fought," Whitford said. "Part of the story for us is we went 6-29 from 3. Early in the game, I thought our decision making was a little wild, but later on, I thought we got a lot of good looks. I have no shame in our locker room. We had some adversity in foul trouble and Toledo having good shooting, but our guys competed their tails off."
In the finish, redshirt freshman Jarron Coleman led Ball State with 18 points and two steals. Alongside Knapke's 31, Jackson would finish with 18 points and six assists. Willie Jackson had a team-high 12 pulldowns for Toledo. In ways, the Cardinals got lucky with the way the cards fell in Mid-American Conference play today.
Buffalo, who Ball State has been tied within the conference standings, lost to Akron today leaving both teams still tied for the final BYE into the MAC Tournament. For Toledo, the win continues to cement home court for the Rockets in the first round and adds another tally to a now four-game win streak.
The Cardinals have two more games left before the tournament, hosting Central Michigan Tuesday at home and traveling to DeKalb on Friday to face MAC West leading Northern Illinois.