Ball State men's basketball begins MAC play with loss to Kent State

Ball State head coach Michael Lewis yells for his team to move Dec. 2 against Bellarmine at Worthen Arena. Ball State won 67-58 over Bellarmine. Andrew Berger, DN
Ball State head coach Michael Lewis yells for his team to move Dec. 2 against Bellarmine at Worthen Arena. Ball State won 67-58 over Bellarmine. Andrew Berger, DN

Michael Lewis emphatically closing his laptop screen at the end of his postgame press conference may as well have been his version of a mic drop. While it took 40 minutes for Ball State to lose 82-69 to Kent State, Lewis knew it was over by the end of the first half. 

The 2nd-year Cardinal head coach said he felt Kent State had Ball State figured out before the opening tip. Lewis felt the Golden Flashes thought the Cardinals were soft, and by the time the buzzer sounded for halftime, Lewis agreed. 

Kent State didn’t make a 3-pointer until the second half, but gained an 11-point lead at halftime thanks to a dominant 28-4 ratio in the paint in the first half. Additionally, the Flashes scored 13 points at the free-throw line in the first. 

Despite freshman center Zane Doughty recently being declared out for the season due to injury, Lewis said even his presence inside against Kent State wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But with only one player taller than 6’9” on Ball State’s roster and just four players earning minutes off the bench, the Cardinals may miss Doughty providing another body down the stretch.

While Ball State hung with Kent State for most of the second half, the deficit at the end of the first quarter proved to be too big for Ball State to overcome. 

“We have a learning issue,” Lewis said. 

Lewis said the same thing after the Cardinals’ December 21 loss to Minnesota – their most recent game. To try and combat this, Lewis said he and the coaching staff have changed up their approach involving personnel, length of meetings and studying scouting reports.

However, Ball State was outscored in the paint for the sixth-straight game, outrebounded for the second straight contest and lost its third in a row. Lewis said this skid boils down to a lack of focus, especially when it comes to defensive intensity.

“Jalen Sullinger was left handed last year when we played him, Jalen Sullinger was left handed tonight, and Sullinger is going to be left handed when we play him in February; we go out there and we sit and force him to his left hand,” Lewis said. “You can’t make this stuff up.” 

Lewis said the Cardinals lack of improvement may come from a lack of attention to detail, a lack of learning or a lack of understanding. Whichever way he sliced it, Lewis always put the blame on himself, saying he hasn’t done a good enough job at getting through to his team.

“We are a bad basketball team right now,” Lewis said. “We're declining, we're poorly coached, and I've got to figure out a way to fix it.

“I only know one way, and it has worked for 20 years. I've seen it on different teams from coaches with different personalities, but you got to get a group of guys that want to compete and want to win. We use every learning method that there is, and I have to find a new one.”

MBB v Goshen 5.JPG
Junior guard Davion Bailey dribbles the ball down the court against Goshen Nov. 7 at Worthen Arena. Bailey scored nine points in the game. Mya Cataline, DN

Additionally, Lewis said he thinks many starters like juniors Basheer Jihad, Davion Bailey, Jalin Anderson and Mickey Pearson Jr. are playing too many minutes because no one on the bench is producing enough to warrant consistent playing time. In turn, Lewis said he loses out on opportunities to take his starters out of the game after they make a mistake so he can sit them down and talk them through how to avoid that in the future. Against the Golden Flashes, Ball State’s bench was outscored 42-11.

Despite high scoring marks from many of his starters, including 20 points from Jihad, Lewis said the Cardinals lack something more important to success: leadership.

Bailey said although he’s trying to help the number of freshmen on Ball State’s roster learn throughout the season, he doesn’t believe the Cardinals have the proper “want to” that it takes to win games.

“I don’t think this is our motto or what we built our team on,” Bailey, who finished with 14 points, said. 

As it pertains to scouting reports, Lewis acknowledged the increase in scouting now that non-conference play is mostly over has given Ball State a mountain of trouble throughout the three-game skid. He said he feels like the Cardinals may lack the proper basketball IQ at this point to properly adjust.

While Bailey admitted it can be hard to focus on studying a scouting report for an upcoming opponent, that’s no excuse. 

“We gotta close the margin of error, and we got to do the little things for 40 minutes and not for 25, not for 30, not for 15; we got to do it for a 40-minute basketball game,” Bailey said.

Lewis was honest and said he didn’t think the Cardinals did much of anything well against Kent State (8-5, 1-0 MAC), despite cutting back on points in the paint and free throws allowed during the second half. 

“I don't think we play hard, and that's really hard for me to say out loud,” Lewis said. “Be bad – being bad does not bother me, but play hard. We've really hit a wall here, and we don't have it inside us right now to be able to combat it.”

Although Lewis feared the Cardinals showing against their first Mid-American Conference (MAC) opponent may set the tone for the rest of conference play, Ball State (8-5, 0-1 MAC) returns to action Saturday, Jan. 6, in its first MAC home game of the season, welcoming Central Michigan (5-8, 0-1 MAC) to Muncie, Indiana. 

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at or on X @KyleSmedley_.


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