Ball State men’s basketball coaches and players alike hoped the worst was behind them after a 24-point loss to Evansville Nov. 18. After winning the next two games by more than 15 points each, it seemed like that was the case.
However, after allowing a season-high 90 points, 64 percent shooting from the field and 12 3-pointers against Little Rock (3-4), the Cardinals found a new low. The 26-point loss is not only the worst of the season, but it’s tied for the worst loss of Michael Lewis’ two-season head coaching tenure at Ball State.
Lewis said after the game he simply told the players, “Life is hard.”
“If you’re gonna lay down and quit in a basketball game, you’ve got a lot of things that are gonna be difficult coming your way,” Lewis said. “The quicker you figure it out, the better off you’re gonna be as human beings, not just basketball players.
“We’ve got a long way to go in growing up.”
Lewis described the looks on the faces of the Cardinals as “mopey” throughout the 90-64 loss. However, he said preaching lessons like this is why he loves college basketball and why he loves coaching. It’s important for him to stress the life lessons that come with athletics more than the Xs and Os because that’s what Bob Knight, his coach at Indiana University, did for him.
“It’s not fun, but you gotta take it and you gotta grow,” Lewis said. “We’re playing basketball, there’s real problems out there. Getting your ass kicked like this is not gonna be the worst thing that ever happens to you in your life.”
Things looked up for Ball State to start things off, as junior forward Basheer Jihad scored the first six points of the game. However, Little Rock started things off hot from beyond the arc, as the Trojans first nine points came via the 3-pointer.
Although Jihad matched his career high in just the first half, scoring 21 of Ball State’s 32, Little Rock went on a 9-0 run to end the first half, whereas Ball State went scoreless for more than four minutes to end the first.
Ball State’s trend of performing better in the second half than the first continued, but facing a 20-point deficit at halftime ensured the 38-32 second half kept Little Rock far ahead of the Cardinals. Jihad finished with a career-high 25 points, despite the loss.
While Lewis said he saw no resilience from the Cardinals in the loss, he tried to give them motivation throughout the contest by preaching the same things he does in practice to those he saw making similar mistakes. He said he tells freshman forward Mason Jones to remember the length and width of the court to try to prevent him from stepping out of bounds; he tells freshman guard Joey Brown not to bend over and tuck away the basketball when he’s not able to score inside; he tells freshman guard Trent Middleton Jr. to remember the importance of passing rather than looking to always score first; he tells freshman center Zane Doughty not to try and catch a post-up pass with one hand, otherwise he’d be playing in the NFL with his height.
Throughout the first seven games of the season, Ball State is allowing 72.8 points per game (PPG) to its five Division I opponents compared to its 65 PPG average. Additionally, the Cardinals have allowed a combined 25 3-pointers in their last two contests. In the five contests to open Ball State’s season, the red and white only allowed 21.
Lewis called Little Rock’s 64 percent shooting performance “uncharacteristic” as the Trojans had averaged just five makes from beyond the arc in their previous five contests.
“They're college basketball players. If you allow guys to get comfortable and make their first couple, it can snowball,” Lewis said. “You can't feel sorry and hope they're gonna miss, you gotta make them miss.”
Lewis said the Cardinals have to develop consistency moving forward if they want to succeed throughout the long season. Consistency not just in their play, but in their approach.
“I wake up every day and my first thought is about somebody on my team and how we can help them,” Lewis said. “They've got to begin to think like that.”
The Daily News requested Jihad for postgame comments but were denied.
Ball State (5-2) looks to return to form Saturday, Dec. 2 with a 2 p.m. contest against Bellarmine (2-5) at Worthen Arena in Muncie, Indiana.