“We didn't come up with the same fire that we had at Akron, which is disappointing,” Ball State Men’s Basketball head coach Michael Lewis said. “We got to figure that out between now and Thursday.”
In Friday’s final home game of the season, the Cardinals fell to Toledo 87-81.
The Cardinals (20-11,11-7 MAC) did not start off on the right foot. In the first five minutes, they had committed three turnovers and were down 11-8. A few minutes later, they had committed two more turnovers.
Lewis believes that mistakes like that will hurt them in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament, which begins next week.
“That ‘my bad’ play can send you home,” he said. “You know that when you turn and you’re like ‘oh my bad, my mistake,’ you know, like that can send you home and it can end your season.”
The Cardinals struggled from the field against the regular season champions. They went 31-for-57 (54.4 percent) as a team. But even worse, they were 5-for-20 (25 percent) from deep. But the Rockets (25-6, 16-2 MAC) were a completely different story. They went 33-for-60 (55 percent) and shot 10-for-15 (66.7 percent) from deep.
Even though Lewis credits Toledo’s offense, he believed their defense is what impressed him the most.
“You know, [Toledo head coach] Tod’s [Kowalczyk] done a great job,” he said. He's got a group committed to competing on the defensive end. I think when you look at the numbers, they were 10th or 11th in defense in our league heading into game one [against Ball State]. And then tonight, I think they're third in our league on defense.”
The end result is probably not the one that Ball State fans wanted, but there were two things that stood out.
The first was sophomore Payton Sparks. He completed his 10th double-double of the season. He finished the loss with 24 points and 11 rebounds. The only drawback is that during the game, he collapsed on the court twice, grabbing his ankle. The first time, it was his left. The second time, it was his right.
Lewis believes that this is the key to their recent struggles. Redshirt junior Jarron Coleman was out (turf-toe) once again and there is still no update on his return.
“I don't question these guys' toughness or want to,” Lewis said. “And, you know, there's just some things that are piling up. We haven't practiced over an hour and 15 minutes since the end of January. You know, it's just that time of year.”
A notable part of the night was what the game represented. With it being the final game of the season in Worthen Arena, the senior managers and players were recognized. First, Coleman walked out. And then senior Demarius Jacobs followed.
In the final few minutes of the game, Jacobs came out of the game for a final time. After a long hug from Lewis, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. He reflected on his final home game.
“The main thing was winning the game, going to do as much as I can to help our team win,” Jacobs said. “But enjoy the moment like every single moment, like during the time that I was out there and hearing the cheers, enjoy everything.”
Lewis’s first season with the Cardinals was one that saw fans and students flock to support the team. Jacobs appreciates the support his team received and believes that the attendance records are no accident.
“When we were struggling, I saw how the attendance was,” Jacobs said. “The attendance we bring to every game is pretty big for us and I think that brings us a lot of energy.”
With the win, Toledo claimed the No. 1 seed in the MAC. Ball State finished with the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament and will face No. 5 seeded Ohio (18-13, 10-8 MAC). That game will take place next Thursday with a tipoff time yet to be announced
Contact Zach Carter with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ZachCarter85.