Ball State defeats Eastern Michigan in overtime thriller at home

Sophomore center Payton Sparks gets fouled as he goes up for a layup in a game against Eastern Michigan Feb. 3 at Worthen Arena. Sparks had ten rebounds and tallied a double-double in the game. Brayden Goins, DN
Sophomore center Payton Sparks gets fouled as he goes up for a layup in a game against Eastern Michigan Feb. 3 at Worthen Arena. Sparks had ten rebounds and tallied a double-double in the game. Brayden Goins, DN

6,068 in attendance at Worthen Arena.

Ball State’s largest crowd in 14 years, and they got their money’s worth.

The Cardinals (16-7, 7-3 MAC), enjoying their best start since 2000, defeated the Eastern Michigan Eagles (6-17, 3-7 MAC) in what was a tightly contested contest that needed an extra five minutes to decide a winner.

This game, broadcasted on CBS Sports, was a close one from the very beginning with Ball State trailing by three going into halftime. Head Coach Michael Lewis applauded his team for a better, more complete second half. 

“Unbelievable atmosphere to play a game that's nationally televised [and it's] great for the fans a little bit too,” he said. “Too tight for me, but I thought our execution in the second half offensively was special…our ability to take care of the basketball in the second half you know really put us in a position to win.”

Immediately after the game, the very first thing Lewis did? High-five the entire first row of the student section.

“Very proud of these guys and the crowd was unbelievable... Their energy was great. The students were great, keep coming. If I gotta go raise more money, I'll go raise more money but we'll keep this thing going.” he said.

Redshirt sophomore forward Mickey Pearson Jr. hangs from the rim after a made dunk in a game against Eastern Michigan Feb. 3 at Worthen Arena. Pearson Jr. tallied 13 points in the win. Brayden Goins, DN

‘The Nest’ as it’s called, was filled all the way to the top of the stands, with almost everyone on their feet and cheering (or booing) the entire game. 

“They're huge. You look across college basketball and you watch TV, the student sections provide the energy, they purvey, they spearhead the atmosphere,” Lewis said. “They get the other fans up off their feet and cheering, so [I] couldn't be happier with their energy tonight and their excitement and the buzz that these guys have created on campus.”

One player garnered much of the student section's attention for most of tonight's contest. Former 5-star prospect and 21-point-per-game scorer (1st in the MAC) Emoni Bates was in town, and the students let him hear boo’s all night.

It didn’t matter though, as he scored 35 points on 53.8 percent shooting (14-of-26 FG) and 57.1 percent from the perimeter (4-of-7). Coach Lewis said that this kind of play could’ve taken his guys out of the game, but they didn’t give up.

“Emoni's a good player. That's why there were NBA scouts here tonight,” he said. “He is a good player, and you let good players get rolling like that and they make shots at that level, it's difficult and it can take your spirit and I didn't think it took our spirit. I thought our guys kept their fight and stayed into it.

On the other side, sophomore Payton Sparks had a sort of ‘return game.’ After a few games without his usual stats on the offensive end, he had a stand-out performance tonight. Sparks finished with a team-high 22 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Not only did he dominate the middle, but he also dished out four assists.

“I think it's a great testament to ‘P’ and his character. That he just keeps working and working and got an opportunity tonight.” Lewis said. “When you don't give him the attention everybody else is giving, he makes you pay for it.”

In addition to this dominating performance, Sparks came up with a few big plays to put the Cardinals in a position to win. First, with about 15 seconds left in overtime and down one, he secured the ball in the post, spun to the basket and laid it up to put the Cardinals up one. Then he blocked a potentially game-winning layup from Eagles guard Noah Farrakhan. 

“It just gave me another boost of confidence, but I think it helped our team a lot, just to this game and the atmosphere,” Sparks said. “We just gotta keep digging through and keep building.” 

Redshirt sophomore Mickey Pearson, Jr. essentially iced the game for Ball State at the free throw line, nailing two straight to put the Cardinals up three points late in the game. From there, the Cardinals were able to get another stop and end the game. 

“I really wasn't that nervous or anything. I work on free throws every day before practice and after practice,” Pearson said. “We get up a lot of free throws and shots so I just stepped out there with the confidence I knew I had and just knocked 'em down.”

Lewis says no matter the outcome of this season, Cardinals faithful will have something to be proud of. 

“Regardless of how this season ends, [it] can't ever be taken away from these guys and something they can really be proud of because they're laying the foundation of what the program that we want to build here at Ball State,” he said. 

Ball State heads back to the road to take on Central Michigan (8-14, 3-6 MAC) in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, at 7 p.m Tues. Feb. 7.

Contact Derran Cobb with comments at or on Twitter @Derran_cobb.


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