3 takeaways from Ball State men's basketball's loss to Indiana State at 2023 Indy Classic

Redshirt junior center Ben Hendriks battles for a rebound Dec. 16 against Indiana State during Indy Classic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Andrew Berger, DN
Redshirt junior center Ben Hendriks battles for a rebound Dec. 16 against Indiana State during Indy Classic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Andrew Berger, DN

Ball State men’s basketball head coach Michael Lewis was buzzing to return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse for the 2023 Indy Classic. After defeating SIU Edwardsville a week prior, Lewis recalled a conversation with the decision makers for the four-team showcase, saying the Cardinals were invited back after a 14-point win over Illinois State in the inaugural event last season.

It was nearly that same margin (14.5) in which Ball State’s opponent, Indiana State, was favored; a spread the Sycamores failed to cover despite a 83-72 victory. Coming into this contest, Indiana State was riding an eight-game winning streak and was ranked 15th overall in the NCAA’s NET Rankings. While Ball State had a three-game winning streak and just two losses prior to the Indy Classic, the Cardinals were ranked 231st.

While Ball State saw some positives in defeat, like the return of junior guard Davion Bailey and bringing intensity no matter the deficit, the Sycamores were mostly dominant. Here’s how:

Competitive first half (of the first half)

For the first 14 minutes following tipoff, the Cardinals held their own against an in-state rival.

Once Ball State grabbed the lead with a short jumper from redshirt junior center Ben Hendriks with less than one minute off the clock, the Cardinals held that lead for nearly nine minutes afterwards. However, Indiana State began to piece things together around the halfway mark of the first half and grabbed a lead the Sycamores never relinquished off a 3-pointer from redshirt senior guard Xavier Bledson. 

While freshman guard Trent Middleton Jr. hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 25 apiece with 5:40 left in the half, that was as close as Ball State got to coming out on top once Indiana State found its groove.

The Sycamores led by 11 at halftime.

Junior guard Jalin Anderson looks for an open pass Dec. 16 against Indiana State during the Indy Classic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Andrew Berger, DN

Ball State’s biggest threat neutralized

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Cardinals’ struggles at halftime came down to junior forward Basheer Jihad’s worst half of the season. Coming into the contest having earned back-to-back Mid-American Conference (MAC) Player of the Week awards thanks to four double-doubles in his last five games and a team-leading average of more than 19 points per game, Indiana State clearly made it a priority to stop the Detroit native.

Jihad only scored two points on three shots in the first half, but there were numerous scenarios in which Jihad tried to post up to no luck. In fact, Indiana State truly dominated inside in the first half, scoring 22 of 40 points in the paint and holding Ball State to just eight.

At the end of regulation, the Sycamores outscored the Cardinals 38-24 in the paint while Jihad finished with 10 points.

Indiana State sophomore center Robbie Avila certainly was a large reason for that, not only finishing with 14 points, but also five rebounds and seven assists, capitalizing on the Sycamores' knack to cut in open lanes as quick as possible.

Too little, too late

Jihad was one of four Cardinals to finish with double digit scoring numbers, all of which were earned in the second half. Ball State was down 23 points eight minutes into the second half, but thanks to these efforts, the Cardinals ended up cutting Indiana State’s lead to as few as four points with less than two minutes to go, thanks to a 3-pointer from junior guard Jalin Anderson.

However, Indiana State junior guard Isaiah Swope, who finished with 18 points, returned the favor on the next possession with a three ball of his own. The remaining minute on the clock turned into the foul game as the Sycamores closed in on their ninth consecutive win. Sophomore guard Ryan Conwell led all scorers with 27.

Speaking of free throws, that very well may have been the biggest difference maker as Indiana State shot almost double that Ball State did. The Cardinals finished 9/12 from the charity stripe while the Sycamores shot 18/23. 

In his return to the court after missing the previous four games with a bone bruise in his foot, Bailey dropped 12 points. Anderson led the way with 18 points and freshman forward Mason Jones had a career-high with 12. Overall, the Cardinals looked much more intense on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball in the second half.

Ball State returns to action Thursday, Dec. 21, when the Cardinals travel to Minneapolis to take on the B1GTEN’s Minnesota (8-3). 

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at kyle.smedley@bsu.edu or on X @KyleSmedley_.


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