Michael Lewis made it plain and simple as soon as he sat down for his post game comments; he said Bowling Green was better than Ball State, not just during the 40 minutes of gameplay that had just passed, but as a whole.
The Falcons bested the Cardinals in just about every category on the stat sheet imaginable: points, rebounds, assists, steals, etc. Yet Ball State men’s basketball’s head coach felt the biggest difference couldn’t be found in a box score.
Lewis acknowledged that asking for 40 minutes of consistent Division-I basketball isn’t easy, but said that may be Ball State’s biggest weakness. In the first half, the Cardinals held the Falcons to 33 points before allowing 48 in the second half to lose 81-72.
“I'm really disappointed,” Lewis said. “I felt like they just took advantage of us physically; we didn't stand up to it and respond.”
Lewis felt some of the reason for Ball State’s struggles on defense comes from their dwelling on mistakes on offense. He went on to say many of the Cardinals spend too much time worrying about the last play rather than focusing on the task at hand.
“We got to grow up on that a little bit,” Lewis said.
Ball State has now allowed at least 40 points in the paint in two consecutive games, and Lewis said the concern of his is that these post points haven’t been from big men, but from guards. Bowling Green junior guard Marcus Hill was the best example of that Tuesday, scoring a game-high 28 points with just six of those coming from 3-point range.
Redshirt junior forward Mickey Pearson Jr. said it’s hard for him to keep a player like Hill in front of him on defense.
“We gotta hold our own,” Pearson’s teammate Davion Bailey, who finished with 11 points, said.
The Cardinals were outscored 40-30 in the paint and allowed 11 offensive rebounds which led to 16 second chance points. What’s more, the Falcons scored 10 fastbreak points, forced 13 turnovers and scored 20 points off those turnovers.
Nine of Ball State’s 13 turnovers came from junior guard Jalin Anderson, who sat the bench for nearly half of the second half because of his poor ball handling, Lewis said. While Lewis was disappointed with Anderson’s emotions affecting his play, he was confident that the Cardinals’ primary ball handler would get right back to watching film and attacking the practice court.
“Some things snowballed on him,” Lewis said. “We have to be a mentally stronger team to be able to just move on to what's next. That’s the beauty of basketball, one guy breaks down and it affects everybody.”
That fact hasn’t proved so beautiful for Ball State this season.
Pearson showed perhaps as much emotion as he had all season after a tough putback finish halfway through the second half. This put the Cardinals within one point of the lead, the closest they would come from that point on.
“At that point, I just wanted to win,” Pearson said.
After dropping 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 39 minutes of play, the sweat shined off Pearson’s forehead more than 10 minutes after the final buzzer sounded. He said his emotion against the Falcons is a product of conversations he has had with Lewis, encouraging him to be more of a vocal leader. The second-year starter said he feels like him showing more emotion down the stretch should hopefully give his teammates a chance to feed off his energy.
“We're not coaching professionals, we're coaching inexperienced college players,” Lewis said.
And while the Cardinals sit just one game above .500 and ninth in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) with 10 games left, Lewis said he has seen Ball State’s young roster continually develop throughout the season.
He has seen it in players like freshman guard Trent Middleton Jr., who went multiple games without taking off his warmup shirt before dropping double-digit totals in back-to-back games, including 14 points against Bowling Green. Players like freshman forward Mason Jones, who despite playing with four fouls for half of the final 20 minutes and only finishing with three points, earned praise from Lewis postgame for his continual effort.
Once again, junior forward Basheer Jihad led Ball State in points (22) and rebounds (eight), and he’ll look to help get the red and white back on track when the Cardinals return to action Saturday, Feb. 3 when they travel to Kalamazoo for a 2 p.m. contest against Western Michigan (8-13, 5-4 MAC).