Ball State faithful stands behind men’s basketball team and head coach Michael Lewis

Ball State alumni sitting front row cheer after a Ball State point Dec. 16  against Indiana State at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Andrew Berger, DN
Ball State alumni sitting front row cheer after a Ball State point Dec. 16 against Indiana State at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Andrew Berger, DN

Committed and passionate. The only two words used to describe how it feels to be a fan. 

In 2021, Ball State men’s basketball only won nine home games total, with the average attendance at Worthen Arena being 3,203 fans per game. 

Fast forward two years later. The Cardinals are undefeated at home and have the support of the fans. When they were asked why they believed there was a shift in team success and crowd support, the resounding consensus was head coach Michael Lewis. 

“The crowds are bigger and there's a new energy and excitement with Coach Lewis and I think that's really added to the atmosphere.” Ball State 1979 alumni Bob Strempka said. “I'm hoping the crowds continue to grow because winning matters and once they keep winning, I think more fans will come and I'd like to see them start packing [Worthen Arena] again.”

It’s true. In Lewis’s first year at the helm, the Cardinals had their best season since 2016 and the Cardinals’ home arena saw its highest attendance since 2008. Ball State alumni Joe Mulner, who graduated in 2008 believes with Lewis turning the program around, alumni are more enticed to return and cheer their Cardinals on. 

“It goes beyond [basketball] because Ball State is such a small community, any successful athletic program draws alumni like myself back in when it's more successful to come to campus and support the university.”

Mulner alludes to a point many fans and students can attest to. Lewis’ impact goes beyond basketball. Senior Director of Athletic and Affinity Engagement at Ball State Michelle Johnson described how Lewis connects with the students. 

“The students have gotten behind Michael Lewis and his community impact,” Johnson said. “He goes to visit student organizations and really tries to rally the students to come watch the games and lift the team spirits in the crowd, and cheer them on.”

Lewis explained that Ball State’s fanbase is representative of the love for basketball found in the state of Indiana. 

"[Ball State and Indiana State] both have similar size communities. We can support it, and I think it's good for the state of Indiana, so we'll try to continue to put a good product out there and people appreciate good basketball.” Lewis said. “They'll continue to show up and we just got to be able to continue to grow our brand and playing [in Indianapolis] only helps.”

Junior guard Davion Bailey grew up in Indianapolis, and he relished the thought of playing in his hometown and state. He explained its importance in his decision to come play at Ball State. 

Charlie the Cardinal poses with alumni Dec. 16 at Taxman Brewery where a fan meet up took place before the game. Andrew Berger, DN

“It's a good thing [because]coming [to Indy] was something that Coach Lewis was always talking about being an Indiana team and having Indiana fans. [It's] a big part of the reason why I came [to Ball State],” Bailey said. “I mean, it's a great thing to have the fans coming to the game, and I know it's gonna get even bigger [because] it's only December.”

Playing in Indianapolis hasn’t only been an ultimate opportunity for the student-athletes, however. 

“Indianapolis is a huge hub for Ball State alumni,” Mulner said. “So bringing the team down to Indianapolis to play in front of all the alumni and everything encourages us rather than having to drive 70 miles to the north to see them. It's better to come down here.”

Towards the middle of the second half, the Cardinals began to mount a comeback, fueled in part by scoring from junior forward Basheer Jihad, freshman guard Mason Jones, and junior guard Jalin Anderson. 

The Ball State crowd helped ignite the flame, and Bailey says that is what they feed off of. 

“They give us a lot of energy,” he said. “We need all the energy. Sometimes we might like it ourselves, so just knowing that they're there rooting for us no matter what, that's a great thing.”

The consistent growth in the past couple of seasons coupled with the opportunity to play at Gainbridge Fieldhouse has instilled faith in Ball State to its fans. 

“I think it's good notoriety for the university, especially being in the state of Indiana because basketball is so huge here,” Strempka said. “I think it speaks well to the university [because it] gives us a presence and introduces our brand to the public in general. I'd like to see us reach that success on a national level, too”

Although the final outcome wasn’t what Lewis or the fans pictured, the moment under the bright lights showed that the Cardinal faithful are all into the program the second-year head coach is building. 

Contact Derran Cobb with comments at or on X @Derran_cobb.