In just under 75 seconds, redshirt junior forward Zach Gunn sailed a trio of 3-pointers, and the Cardinals had a 14-7 lead against the RedHawks a little over five minutes and 30 seconds into the game. Momentum was on Ball State’s side after a pair of commanding wins over Bowling Green and Northern Illinois last week.
However, as Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘till its over,” and Miami (Ohio) showed that to be just true as the first half winded down and throughout the final 20 minutes of action Tuesday night in Oxford, Ohio. Led by a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) from RedHawks’ redshirt junior forward James Beck, Ball State (6-6, 4-3 MAC) couldn’t match Miami’s (5-4, 2-2 MAC) physicality the rest of the way in its 81-71 loss to Miami (Ohio).
The RedHawks snuck up on Ball State with any chance they could and began the second half on a 7-3 run. Despite not trailing in the first half, head coach James Whitford said he noticed a shift in energy between the two sides late in the final minutes before halftime, which ultimately transitioned into the second half.
“It started there, and then, [the RedHawks] were able to carry it over in the first four minutes of the second half,” Whitford said. “The difference was their pressure and them turning us over. It was certainly what bothered us.”
Ball State committed 27 fouls on the night — 18 of them in the second half — including one technical foul on redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas late in the game, who came off a career-high performance Jan. 16 vs. Northern Illinois. The Cardinals struggled in this category all night long, giving way to multiple Miami (Ohio) free-throws.
Turnovers were also an area of concern for the Cardinals late, as Ball State committed 10 of them in the second half en route to 25 Miami (Ohio) points.
Like his coach, redshirt sophomore guard Jarron Coleman said the RedHawks were the more complete team in the second half, and the Cardinals struggled to play keep up down the line. Ball State was also without redshirt senior forward Brachen Hazen for the second straight game, who is out day-to-day with a back injury.
“Miami played with a lot of energy,” Coleman said. “They played harder, and the harder-playing team is always going to win the game. We just didn’t match their energy and played with the same level the whole 40 minutes than when we started.”
In his second game this season after coming off a foot injury, Coleman recorded six points and three rebounds in 19 minutes of action. While he currently remains on a minute limit, he said watching his teammates, knowing where to improve and having a gradual return to action has best prepared him for when he is able to go at his full capabilities.
“I’m just always putting in my input from what I’m seeing on the bench, even though you can’t see everything on the court,” Coleman said. “I’m just always giving my teammates hints and tips to do better or just to be a great player.”
Despite the loss, Whitford said he was satisfied with his team’s performance at the charity stripe. The Cardinals shot 19-for-19 on free-throw attempts, an area of their game he hopes they build on moving forward.
“When you see that, it has a lot to do with who got fouled,” Whitford said. “I think that’s what you saw tonight. The guys who shot the free throws were K.J. [Walton], Luke Bumbalough, Ishmael [El-Amin], and when those guys are shooting, you’re going to make a lot of them.”
Like his players, Whitford said he is putting the loss in perspective, as he knows Ball State remains games away from unleashing their absolute potential in playing a complete 40 minutes nightly.
“Obviously, every game matters in trying to win a championship but nothing changes for us in that we have to kind of reorganize our team here a little bit,” Whitford said. “We’ve got to get Boogie [Jarron Coleman] back in shape and able to contribute. We have to work closer to being healthy and the team we want to be.”