CLEVELAND––A historic, fan-filled, and culture-changing season ended in Cleveland Thursday afternoon.
After its first 20 win season in six years, the Ball State Cardinals (20-12) came into the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament as the No. 4 seed, and fell to the No. 5 seed Ohio Bobcats (19-13) 90-70.
Following a strong start to the contest, shooting 4-of-5 (80 percent) from the field, the Cardinals went into the first media timeout leading by six points. The Bobcats responded strong, going on a 12-4 scoring run in the next four minutes.
“I thought we got off to a really good start and [I] was pleased with our first four minute segment,” Ball State head coach Michael Lewis said. “Once Ohio punched back, we didn't have any response, and that was disappointing. We didn't have an answer on the backboard, our turnovers led to transition points and it got away from us quickly.”
Ohio was extremely active on both sides of the ball after the first timeout, forcing 12 turnovers, including 10 steals. Ball State lost the rebound battle 45 to 30, an uncharacteristic performance from a team that typically dominates the boards.
Four Cardinals posted double-figure scoring performances: sophomore Jaylin Sellers (10), redshirt junior Jarron Coleman (10) and senior Demarius Jacobs (11). Sophomore Payton Sparks led the way with 21 points (8-15 FG) to go with seven rebounds.
For the Bobcats, they were led by quality guard play from freshman AJ Brown, who posted a career-high 28 points (10-16 FG, 5-10 3PT) off the bench, and junior Jaylin Hunter, who had 13 points to go with two steals.
Lewis believed once the Cardinals went down, Ohio pounced on the opportunity and took the game over.
“I think Ohio turned us over 20 times the first time we played, and they've got guards [like] Hunter who's [an] active, good defensive player,” he said. “Like good teams, when they saw they had us shook a little bit, they came at us.”
Ball State is a team that has had to go through multiple late-season injuries and other setbacks that have forced them to not be able to practice and play together for about a month. This led to them losing their touch at the wrong time, which resulted in a tired and beat up performance in the MAC Tournament.
“This last month has been difficult. I got a great deal of respect, obviously, for [Jacobs and] what he's gone through the last six weeks, and [he] continues to show up every day to practice as much as he can to play and compete the way that he wants…” Lewis said. “[Jarron Coleman] giving it a go today [after] he practiced yesterday for the first time, and was willing to go out there and try to compete, that's what I'm going to remember this team for.”
Although this result is not what Lewis or the Cardinals were hoping for, the first year head coach was adamant that this one game cannot take away all the accomplishments and success they have brought on throughout the season.
“I just told them in the locker room it should hurt. It should sting, it should be hugely disappointing,” he said. “If it doesn't hurt, then this is not the program for them, but I don't want them to remember the season for how it ended.