Thin Ball State men's basketball roster falls to Minnesota for second-straight loss

Ball State head coach Michael Lewis claps at his players to move Dec. 16 against Indiana State at Gainbridge Fieldhouse for Indy Classic. Ball State lost 83-72. Andrew Berger, DN
Ball State head coach Michael Lewis claps at his players to move Dec. 16 against Indiana State at Gainbridge Fieldhouse for Indy Classic. Ball State lost 83-72. Andrew Berger, DN

Ball State men’s basketball went into its biggest non-conference game of the season against the B1GTEN’s Minnesota shorthanded. With graduate student Ethan Brittain-Watts already out for the season and freshman Joey Brown suspended, three more Cardinals joined the inactive list. 

While freshman Micah Bell only averaged 9.3 minutes per game in six appearances throughout the first 11 games of the season, consistent starters Mickey Pearson Jr. and Ben Hendriks were also unavailable against the Gophers. 

As if facing a Power-5 opponent wasn’t enough, the Cardinals had to do it with just nine players suiting up, many of them not consistent members of the rotation. Freshman Zane Doughty, who didn’t find the floor in the previous two contests, made his first collegiate start. 

With Doughty and others struggling in their increased roles, Ball State lost consecutive games for the first time this season, falling to 8-4 on the season after a 80-63 loss to Minnesota (9-3, 1-1 B1GTEN).

“We can’t keep making the same mistakes,” Lewis repeated throughout his postgame press conference. “We've hit a roadblock with those guys.”

Lewis said he and the rest of the coaching staff need to do a better job of getting that message across to the young players on the team whose progress he views as stagnant. 

“I don't know if it's an end of  semester thing, I don't know if they need this break, but we've got to see more growth from those guys,” Lewis said. 

The most effective way to get them to understand the severity of this message, Lewis said, is to bench those who don’t show improvement moving forward. 

“We've shown film, we've walked them through it, we've practiced technique; we've used every method of learning, yet it just hasn't taken hold,” Lewis said. 

Lewis said the Cardinals can’t succeed and can’t last repeatedly playing their standout players like juniors Jalin Anderson and Basheer Jihad almost the entire game every night. However, he said that’s what he will have to do if he doesn’t start to see more progress from numerous freshmen, like Doughty and Trent Middleton Jr. 

Anderson and Jihad, each stepping into bigger roles than they’ve ever had at the collegiate level this season, have seemed to take to their increased responsibility about as well as anyone on the Cardinals as they are the top two scorers for Ball State. They’ve approached their successful roles on the court as a chance for them to help their younger, struggling teammates better adjust moving forward.

“We gotta grind in practice; it starts in practice,” Anderson said. 

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

Jihad said it’s all about reaffirming them when they make mistakes.

“You're gonna make mistakes as freshmen, but they're gonna have to be better because they're gonna play big minutes, and that's an opportunity that not a lot of people get,” Jihad said. “Just making sure they're seizing their opportunity.”

Despite his frustrations with the young squad, Lewis said the Cardinals showed in their last two contests that they could hang around with higher-tier programs like Indiana State and Minnesota. Anderson, who led the Cardinals with 26 points against the Gophers, said the biggest thing he has taken away from the last two games is how small Ball State’s margin of error needs to be when playing against that quality of opponent. 

“You gotta play the full 40 minutes,” Anderson said.

Heading into the Indiana State contest having averaged more than 19 points per game, Jihad ran into his first consistent double team situation against the Sycamores and found himself in the same situation against the Gophers.

He surrendered a team-high four turnovers against Indiana State, but finished with eight against Minnesota.

“I just gotta be better,” Jihad said. “It's gonna happen, the way I'm playing and with my skill set, they're gonna have to [double team] if they want to be able to be successful and guard me.”

In the first half, after Jihad turned the ball over for the seventh time, Lewis called his leading scorer over to tell him he can’t continue to dribble out of double team situations. While Jihad said Lewis’ advice helped him adjust, he admitted he needs to make those adjustments sooner without Lewis’ instruction.

The Cardinals trailed 39-27 at the half and trailed by as many as 17 points, starting the contest shooting just 4/13 from the field. Ball State had 11 turnovers in the first half, and the Gophers scored 17 points off those turnovers. 

Junior Davion Bailey, who returned to the starting lineup after making his return from a four-game injury stint against Indiana State, went down late in the first half favoring his right leg, the same leg he previously injured, however he returned to begin the second half. 

While Ball State cut Minnesota’s lead to just seven points at one point in the second half, outscoring the Gophers for the first 10 minutes, the Cardinals fell into a 16-3 rut for more than five minutes and Minnesota never looked back.

Although Anderson dropped his second-highest total of the season and Jihad finished with 17 points, Minnesota moved to 9-3 backed by their depth as five Gophers scored in double-digit figures.

“You can't have the continued mistakes that just break you down and put you in tough spots,” Lewis said one last time. “Good teams take advantage of it.” 

The Cardinals return to action Tuesday, Jan. 2 in the first Mid-American Conference (MAC) contest of their season, traveling to Kent State (7-3).

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

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