Despite Ball State Men’s Basketball (7-9, 2-3 MAC) losing to Buffalo (9-6, 3-2 MAC) 74-68, a young Ball State team was able to match the Bulls’ physicality and have two consecutive competitive games in the Mid-American Conference.
"It's a good sign for our team,” freshman center Payton Sparks said. “We're going in the right direction. We're in all of these games we just have to finish. I like this team.”
Buffalo’s 3-point shooting was the difference, as they finished the game shooting 11-for-31 from three, as Ball State went just 4-for-25. Jeenathan Williams finished the game with 20 points for the Bulls and sophomore guard Tyler Cochran said his versatility is what makes him hard to defend.
“[Williams] is a great player,” Cochran said. “He is so tough to guard because he can shoot the ball and penetrate. It seems like he always makes the right plays for his team.”
Cochran led all scorers with 28 points and nine rebounds followed by Sparks’ 18 points and 16 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double.
In the first half, Ball State was able to slow down the game and draw 10 fouls against Buffalo, going 8-for-12 from the free-throw line while only sending the Bulls to the line once. Meanwhile, Buffalo was able to enter the break with a 34-30 lead due to its 3-point shooting, hitting seven 3-pointers to Ball State’s two.
Buffalo Came out of the break firing on all cylinders and playing more aggressive down low getting to the line 16 times in the half.
Redshirt sophomore Kani Acree hit a three with 13 minutes left in the game, and Ball State went on a 13-2 run to take a 50-48 lead, but Buffalo was able to muster a run to take a 64-58 lead in the final five minutes of the game.
Buffalo matched Ball State and was able to eventually put the game away with a 9-2 run in the final two minutes which ultimately gave them a win.
One of the areas head coach James Whitford said they were worried about early in the game was rebounding, as Buffalo is 15th in the country. The Cardinals only lost the rebounding battle 45-39 and was able to win inside scoring 32 points in the paint compared to Buffalo’s 26. This was an area Whitford said he believed was a positive along with adjustments against the Bulls’ defense
“I thought we had a moment in the game where we really lost our composure and turned the ball over. We had 10 at halftime, but we had 11 for the game. I thought we adjusted there and took care of the ball against a team that was really trying hard to pressure.”
Despite the loss, Whitford said he likes the direction the Cardinals are heading, and is happy about how they competed in the last two games.
I think it is a good sign,” Whitford said. “And for us, obviously you want to be on the other side of the ledger. But, you know, one of the things, you don't always control shooting on a given night, but I thought we really played well. I thought we really battled, and we competed.”
Ball State travels to Toledo (12-4, 4-1 MAC) to try to give the Rockets their first loss at home of the season Tuesday Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.
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