It’s January 20, 2024, and Ball State led 72-69 with 14 seconds left. Miami (OH) just grabbed a rebound off a missed jumper from junior guard Davion Bailey.
By the time the Redhawks advanced the ball to halfcourt, there was no more than 10 seconds left. The Cardinals’ head coach, Michael Lewis, screamed “foul, foul!”
“We practice it,” he said.
No one fouled. Instead, Miami graduate student guard Darweshi Hunter had enough time to drill a stepback 3-pointer in the face of Bailey to tie the game at 72 as regulation expired.
Just a couple of minutes into overtime, Hunter drilled another stepback, contested 3-pointer to give Miami a six-point lead. The Redhawks (9-9, 3-3 MAC) outscored Ball State 15-8 in overtime to win the Red Bird Rivalry 87-80.
Lewis called the Cardinals’ late game performance a “meltdown.”
“This started at 9 a.m. without how our walkthrough was – our preparation, our energy,” Lewis said. “This is disappointing because we had this one in the bag.
“We talk about self-inflicted wounds, and we're not in a situation to overcome some of the mistakes that we make.”
Lewis thought back to his second season as a graduate assistant coach for the late head coach Bob Knight’s Texas Tech. It was January 26, 2004, and the No. 13 Red Raiders were leading the No. 16 Longhorns by three points.
Texas Tech didn’t foul like Knight wanted to. Instead, Texas’ Brandon Mouton hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send it to overtime.
In the following five minutes, the Longhorns emerged victorious in the Red River Rivalry.
The parallels are eerily similar 20 years later, nearly to the day. Ball State led by 11 points with 4:56 left in regulation, and after redshirt junior forward Mickey Pearson Jr. sank a 3-pointer with 4:56 to go, it should have been the dagger.
Although the shot put Ball State ahead by 11 points and provided the Cardinals with all the momentum, Miami wouldn’t go away.
Lewis gave credit to his Mid-American Conference (MAC) rivals, and said the only way to fix Ball State’s continued late game mistakes is to keep drilling it into them during practice.
Lewis felt like the Cardinals’ fifth MAC loss in six game came down to, once again, poor offensive execution when it mattered most.
“We try to do too much,” Lewis said.
Lewis used examples like turning the ball over on a fastbreak while trying to move down the court too fast or pulling up from the 3-point line on a fastbreak rather than looking for a layup.
“We try to make too many plays for ourselves instead of just continuing to work and make plays for the next guy,” he said.
Lewis said he has tried nearly every learning skill he knows to try and let his coaching sink in with the Cardinals, but said he doesn’t think the roster is built for any additional tools he may have right now.
Pearson was on the floor when Hunter hit the shot to force overtime, and he said he had full confidence in Bailey to either foul or prevent Hunter from getting a shot off. Basheer Jihad was on the floor too.
“I knew we should have fouled,” the junior forward said.
However, his initial plans to foul changed when Miami initially drove inside for a potential layup before kicking it back out to the perimeter with not enough time left to adjust. Jihad finished with a career-high 29 points, but still entered and exited the post-game press conference with his head down.
“It didn't mean anything to me,” Jihad said. “They're in their locker room celebrating right now, and no matter if I have 50 points, they’re in their locker room celebrating right now. I'm never gonna find peace in that.”
Pearson, who finished with a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double, felt the same.
“I’d rather have 0 points and a win,” he said.
While Lewis was upset about the Cardinals’ preparation in the hours before tipoff and in the final nine minutes of play, he used a 28-minute stretch including the last 12 minutes of the first half and the first 16 minutes of the first half as praise for the Cardinals despite the loss.
In fact, during that stretch, the Cardinals improved from 10 first half turnovers to just three in the second half and overtime. While Ball State didn’t hold a lead until the 1:48 mark in the first half, the Cardinals led for a combined total of 15:55, with all of that time coming in the 28 minutes of what Lewis felt was positive play.
Jihad even scored the first 13 second half points for Ball State after dropping 10 in the first half. However, Jihad showed more emotion on the floor than he had all season against the Redhawks.
Miami’s Jaquel Morris threw down a vicious dunk with 13 minutes left in the first half. He and Jihad got into a small scuffle afterward that ended when Jihad shoved Morris and both players were awarded a technical foul. Fast forward to less than a minute to go in the second half, and while Jihad was posting up, he seemed to accidentally elbow a Miami player in the face but drew a defensive foul.
Afterward, Jihad once again got into it with the Redhawks this time having to be restrained by Pearson and freshman forward Mason Jones. Lewis saw this intensity coming from Miami and told the Cardinals to be prepared before the game.
Yet Jihad felt he needed to stand up for himself.
“I felt like they were doing some cheap stuff, some dirty stuff, but I can't let it get too carried away,” Jihad said. “But, I'm not gonna let anyone punk me.”
The Cardinals (9-9, 1-5 MAC) return to action Tuesday, Jan. 23 when they travel to Buffalo (2-15, 1-4 MAC) for
a 7 p.m. contest.