“I knew this was coming,” Michael Lewis said.
In a Division-I vs. NAIA matchup, Ball State men’s basketball was expected to beat Oakland City. But that’s not what the Cardinals’ head coach was referring to, despite Ball State’s 92-51 victory.
Although he walked into the post-game press conference sitting at 3-0 this season, he expressed immense disappointment in the red and white’s “lackadaisical” approach against the Mighty Oaks, specifically from experienced players like junior guard Jalin Anderson (20 points), redshirt junior forward Mickey Pearson (12 points) and junior forward Basheer Jihad (nine points).
“I could see it yesterday,” Lewis said. “You only get 31 of these opportunities guaranteed to you and I’m not sure we took advantage of that tonight.”
After Oakland City went up 4-0 in the first minute of the game, Lewis called a timeout. He sat and calmly tried to get the Cardinals focused and back on track. For the next six minutes, the Mighty Oaks kept their lead.
Once Ball State grabbed the lead with 13:04 left in the first half, Oakland City never retook it. However, Lewis described his halftime speech to the Cardinals as “unpleasant.”
“We did our normal work yesterday, but we were not sharp. We had our practice today, we were not sharp and we came out and played that way,” Lewis said. “I will exhaust ways to try to get the best out of these guys because that's my job. I didn't push the right buttons until halftime.”
During the preseason freshman guard Trent Middleton said Lewis was one of the biggest reasons he chose to move from Philadelphia to Muncie, Indiana, for college. He wanted to play for a coach who kept it honest with him.
He felt Lewis did that in the win over Oakland City.
“Once he got on us we realized that it’s bigger than today's game,” Middleton said.
As someone who wants to be a leader despite his inexperience, Middleton said he needs to adopt the approach of playing every game going forward like it’s his last. Despite scoring 11 points against the Mighty Oaks, he recognized he didn’t go into the game with the right approach.
“There's too many days where we kind of limp into practice and then a fire gets lit and then we practice pretty well,” Lewis said. “Why do we have to go through this to get to this point?”
In the second half, Ball State’s lead grew from 21 to 41. The Cardinals finished by forcing 22 turnovers and scoring 23 points off of them. Additionally, every member of Ball State’s active roster saw the floor as the bench combined for 36 points.
Freshman guard Joey Brown shared the bench-high with 11 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. While he saw the court for a career-high 21 minutes, he agreed with Lewis that he may not have gotten the most out of his playing time.
“It’s one thing to go through a practice, but then you got to carry it over to a game and mentally lock in,” Brown said.
Lewis said after Ball State’s pre game walkthrough, he sat down beside Brown and put his arm around him. He said tough games and practices are what will take inexperienced players like him to the next level; to the potential all-conference nod Lewis believes Brown is capable of down the road.
“There’s levels to this,” Brown said. “He’s telling us how to get to that highest level, so it’s important to embrace and listen to everything he’s saying.”
During a timeout late in the second half, Lewis sat with the Cardinals surrounding him and pointed over his right shoulder to the rafters. Hanging above him were four Mid-American Conference Championship banners.
Although Ball State was up nearly 40 points at the time, it wasn’t enough for Lewis. While he credited Oakland City’s game plan and roster, he was always viewing this contest as a building block to larger opponents in the Cardinals’ future.
“I'm not trying to beat Oakland City,” Lewis said. “I came here and these guys came here to hang one of those banners. To do that, you can't have nights like this where you fall off.
“I get it. We won by 41. I understand. I get that. But there was a lot of sloppy play that wasn't clean enough for us to be able to beat the teams that we want to beat. You practice every day to try to compete against the best team on your schedule, [and] we lowered ourselves today.”
Ball State hits the road for the first time this season Saturday, Nov. 18, to face Evansville (2-0) at 2 p.m. ET.