'Finding a way to win is the most important thing:' Ball State defeats Detroit Mercy after slow start

Junior forward Basheer Jihad dunks the ball after a breakaway Dec. 2 against Bellarmine at Worthen Arena. Jihad had 11 rebounds. Andrew Berger, DN
Junior forward Basheer Jihad dunks the ball after a breakaway Dec. 2 against Bellarmine at Worthen Arena. Jihad had 11 rebounds. Andrew Berger, DN

When Ball State finishes a home game at Worthen Arena, junior Basheer Jihad walks out of the locker room, which is about four hours away from home. Yet tonight, the Detroit, Michigan native was 20 minutes away from his childhood home as the Cardinals faced Detroit Mercy. 

“It was nice to come home and everything, but I really had to refocus myself,” Jihad said. “Winning the game, that's the most important thing.” 

Jihad’s goal of refocusing himself seemed to pay off as he recorded his third double-double of the season with 26 points and 10 rebounds. 

However, unlike his last double-double in Ball State’s win over Bellarmine, Jihad was able to walk through the locker room doors to hug his loved ones after helping the Cardinals take the 68-65 victory.

“[It’s nice] being able to see family after the game,” he said. “I love all of them and it’s always special to come home and see familiar faces.” 

The Cardinals’ seventh win of the year did not open the way that they might of wanted. In the first three minutes of the contest, Ball State recorded five turnovers and were down 7-0. 

“We did some things tonight that, quite frankly, are a little bit unexplainable as have our other two trips on the road [have been],” Ball State head coach Michael Lewis said.

The miscues did not stop there for the Cardinals as they continued to struggle in the first half, which included 12 turnovers and poor shooting. From the field, Ball State went 9-for-22 (40.9 percent) and 4-for-12 (33.3 percent) from three-point range. Due to those numbers, the Cardinals never led in the opening period. 

“You can't start like that against a good team or a decent team,” Jihad said. “You are not gonna be able to come out like that and dig that hole and come back out of it.” 

Yet the Cardinals did dig themselves out of that hole. During halftime, Lewis told them that they needed to change multiple things that had them down 35-27. 

“We weren't really solid defensively,” Lewis said. “We were breaking down and I thought that's just a curveball.”

During the second half, Ball State hit the court running. The energy from the Cardinals seemed different and it affected the Titans. Even though the white and red had the lead with two minutes to go, the game started to bend in the favor of the visitors. 

First, Ball State only had 14 fouls in the contest. On the other hand, Detroit Mercy was whistled for 23 fouls. This gave the Cardinals a chance at the free-throw line, where they went 24-for-29 (82.8). 

Then, rebounding became a huge key in the final few minutes as Ball State finished with 42 rebounds compared to Detroit Mercy’s 29. Yet one of the biggest things that helped the Cardinals was their ability to stay cool and collected after taking their first lead with 1:18 left in the second half. 

With it being a young roster for the Cardinals, this was a big game for their second-year head coach. To Lewis, one certain freshman proved that he could handle the pressure as he recorded seven points and grabbed seven rebounds. 

“I thought [freshman] Mason Jones played his ass off,” Lewis said. “He threw up after the game because he cramped during the game. That's what winning does [because] you play to complete exhaustion… Those are the guys that I can get down with.”

Freshman forward Mason Jones drives down the side of the court Dec. 2 against Bellarmine at Worthen Arena. Jones had 4 assists. Andrew Berger, DN

Leading Ball State was Jihad with his double-double and junior Mickey Pearson with 15 points. Pearson was also 6-for-6 (100 percent) from the foul line. 

While the Cardinals were not in love with their performance, the win was a big momentum shifter as the postgame celebration could be heard over the Zoom recording. 

“Things aren't always going to go your way but just finding a way to win is the most important thing,” Pearson said. “ I feel like that's really what this will do for us. That's why we celebrated the way we did.”

When it comes to finding ways to win, Lewis knows what it’s like to win college basketball games. He did it as a player at Indiana University and has done it as an assistant and head coach. 

“They're young. Winning in college basketball is hard,” Lewis said. “The home team wins 66 percent of the time and we have not played well on the road.

“If you can't celebrate a win in college basketball, what are you doing? This is supposed to be fun. They've got me on their ass every day trying to push them to get better. Like, you win a game, enjoy it, and have fun.” 

However, one particular set of news is not something to celebrate. After the game, Lewis confirmed that graduate student Ethan Brittain-Watts will be out for the season. Watts had surgery in Philadelphia yesterday for an injury he suffered earlier this season. 

According to Lewis, Watts is expected to make a full recovery and will use a redshirt to return next season. 

“It's unfortunate, and obviously, it's not great for us. But there is some silver lining in it,” Lewis said. “It’s gonna help him out in life as far as he's gonna walk out of Ball State with a master's in business administration on a certificate. 

“You feel bad about that and he's got a long road of recovery ahead of him. But I love his mindset and how he's focused on attacking.”

With this news and the fact that junior Davion Bailey will be out for some time with an injury, the next few weeks will require other Cardinals to step into bigger roles. 

“We're not and we will never be a program of excuses,” Lewis said. “We've got 13 scholarship [players], and you got them for a reason. These guys are getting some opportunities and we got some young guys that are growing up in a hurry.”

The Cardinals will return home as they will take the court on SIU Edwardsville on Sunday, Dec. 10. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. 

Contact Zach Carter with comments at zachary.carter@bsu.edu or on X @ZachCarter85


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