After a layup from redshirt sophomore guard Tyler Cochran, Ball State (11-13, 6-7 MAC) trailed Buffalo (13-8, 7-4 MAC) by three points with two minutes and 33 seconds left.
However, during the next offensive possession, Buffalo senior forward Jeenthan Williams caught the basketball in the corner and drilled his third 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game.
The Bulls didn't relinquish their lead following Williams’ 3-pointer and defeated Ball State 80-74. Head Coach James Whitford said the Cardinals are developing their ability to close games, but their inexperience played a role in the loss.
“We’re making progress in that area, and yet it’s our achilles heel,” Whitford said. “Someone told me the other day Buffalo was the 23rd oldest team in college basketball and we’re the 10th youngest team in college basketball. You see in those moments and we’re making progress, [but] we’re not obviously where we need to be.”
Cochran contributed 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Cochran also totaled a team-high six steals and defended Buffalo forwards because of foul trouble. Whitford said Cochran did an excellent job adjusting and doing what the coaching staff asked of him.
“He’s a warrior,” Whitford said. “I thought he was all over the place, we were asking him to play the four most of the game because Miryne’s [Thomas] foul trouble. He did a great job, eight assists, six steals, it's a stat sheet stuffing type night for him.”
Freshman center Payton Sparks recorded his fifth straight double-double with a team-high 19 points and 12 rebounds. The Cardinals placed two others in double-figures, as junior guard Luke Bumblaiugh scored 16 points and junior guard Demarius Jacobs added 14 points.
Buffalo shot 7-for-21 from the 3-point line, but three of those came in the final seven minutes and 57 seconds of the second half. Whitford said Ball State defended the perimeter well but had mental lapses with help defense and leaving too much room for shooters.
"Jeenathan [Williams] hits the big 3-pointer in the corner, it’s defended well,” Whitford said. “Tyler [Cochran] left his man one time to double, left a wide-open 3-pointer, Jaylin [Sellers] did the same thing. Those are the ones that cost you.”
Buffalo was led by Williams with 24 points. Senior guard Ronald Segu scored 13 points, and Whitford gave credit to the pair for performing in the final minutes.
"Ronald [Segu] and Jeenathan [Williams] did what they do down the stretch,”: Whitford said. “They’re really good players, I thought they took over in crunch time and they made some big plays. But for the most part, I thought we defended well.”
Ball State returns to Worthen Arena Feb. 15 against Northern Illinois (6-15, 3-8 MAC). Tipoff is 7:30 p.m.