After its 64-58 loss against Northern Illinois (7-16, 4-9 MAC) Feb. 15, Ball State (11-14, 6-8 MAC) has lost three consecutive games.
The Cardinals are No. 6 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). The top eight qualify for the MAC Tournament March 10-12, where the winner receives an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.
Ball State is a half game ahead of No. 7 Central Michigan, a game and a half ahead of No. 8 Miami (Ohio), and two games ahead of No. 9 Bowling Green. Head Coach James Whitford said Ball State controls its destiny.
“I told our guys if we can go 3-3 in these last six games, we have a great shot at making the tournament with some momentum,” Whitford said. “Going 4-2 would be better, but even just at 3-3, we can go into the tournament feeling confident.”
After a 93-83 victory against Toledo Feb. 4, the Cardinals fell 89-95 in overtime against Central Michigan Feb. 8 and lost 80-74 at Buffalo Feb. 12. Redshirt junior forward Miryne Thomas attributes the losses to lack of connection and thinks Ball State must get back its bond they displayed against the Rockets.
“We need to get back that connection, back to where we were when we beat Toledo,” Thomas said. “Just trust in our guys and trust in the coaches and believe that they put us in a position to succeed. We just got to play hard and play together.”
The Cardinals have endured losing streaks before. After losing to Akron, Buffalo and Toledo from Jan. 11-18, Ball State won four of its next five. Freshman center Payton Sparks scored a team-high 16 points, and knows what the Cardinals must do to replicate their level of success.
“We’ve got to come together,” Sparks said. “After that Toledo loss, we talked as a team, and just worked on what we needed to work on. [We] took that into the games, and just kept improving every game. That’s what we need to work.”
Whitford said he loves the competition because they improve Ball State's resiliency.
“I said to the guys in the locker room, ‘Adversity reveals character,’” Whitford said. “Progress is never linear. We’ve had some real progress. That game against Toledo, we looked like a million bucks. We’re the tenth youngest team in the country, and to get a win over a team like Toledo, we’re like, ‘Man, that’s awesome.’ Then, we hit a little rough patch. We’ll be OK if we don’t crack, and get back on a path.”
That path resumes Feb.19 as the Cardinals travel to Bowling Green (12-14, 5-10 MAC). Tipoff is 5 p.m.