March came early tonight.
In a thriller between two of the top Mid-American Conference (MAC) basketball teams, Ball State (20-10, 11-6 MAC) fell short at Akron (21-9, 13-4 MAC).
After taking a five-point first half lead, the Zips outscored the Cardinals by nine in the second, going on a 13-5 scoring run to take and keep the lead. Despite the loss, head coach Michael Lewis is happy with the fight his team put in tonight.
“I told the guys, look, our program is not going to be about moral victories, [but]...I just told them in the locker room, I was proud of them for their fight, and their efforts and their competitive fire tonight after a loss as I have been of any win that we've been a part of, and we've had some pretty big wins this year.” he said.
Once again battling with an injury bug tonight, scoring leader redshirt junior Jarron Coleman was inactive tonight with a foot injury, according to Lewis. However, the Ball State bench stepped up, outscoring Akron’s 36-to-4.
This attack was led by junior Jalen Windham (19) and sophomore Basheer Jihad (17). Lewis says it wouldn’t have even been a game without them. Coleman is not the only Cardinal battling with injuries, but Lewis knows that his guys are tough and will always put up a fight.
“Everybody's banged up this time of year, it's just bad timing for us especially with the way our roster is constructed,” he said. “I don't question any of our guys' toughness or want to, so that's why I'm so proud of the effort tonight although we didn't get the result that we wanted.”
Despite the outcome, Lewis thinks this game marked an important moment in Ball State’s season and where they want to be. While there is still room for growth, from the road game at Kent State to tonight, his team's response to a hostile environment has improved heavily.
“I mean anytime you can play in environments with that type of crowd and atmosphere, I think it's exciting as a college basketball player, I told these guys on our first trip to Kent [State]. We weren't ready for that,” he said. “I think we handle those situations better now, which is the growth of a team and growth of our program. We got a little jumpy tonight late on a couple of defensive assignments and that bit us. We've got to be more disciplined in those areas.”
This game served as a MAC Tournament preview and with the games starting next weekend, the Cardinals will look to carry this fight and effort into Cleveland.
“If we take that fire and competitiveness with us to Cleveland, we're gonna give ourselves a chance,” Lewis said. “We were down an all-conference guard tonight and we just hung with a team and a coach that I respect as much in this league as anybody”
Ball State plays its final regular season game inside Worthen Arena as they take on current top-seeded Toledo (24-6, 15-2 MAC) Friday, March 3.
Contact Derran Cobb with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Derran_cobb.