Basheer Jihad sat with a blank expression on his face.
“We’re just tired of losing,” Jihad said. “We’re desperate."
Despite the junior forward tying his career-high in points with 27 and grabbing a career-best 16 rebounds, Ball State men’s basketball lost its fifth-straight contest with a 80-76 loss to Akron.
“I didn't do enough,” Jihad said. “I still had seven turnovers.”
Jihad recorded his seventh 20-point game and sixth double-double of the season, but also gave up his second-most turnovers of the season. But it wasn’t Jihad’s giveaways that ultimately decided Ball State’s fate.
It all came down to what head coach Michael Lewis said the Cardinals needed to improve on after their Jan. 6 loss against Central Michigan: clipboard-to-court execution. There was less than a minute left in the game and Ball State trailed 76-74 and were in halfcourt offense.
Jihad previously sank a free throw off a technical foul to put the game within two points, and the ball ended up in his hands to potentially tie it. After he dribbled from the far-right 3-point line across the baseline for a layup look on the left block, Jihad missed.
Although Ball State had one last chance during the foul game to tie it up, junior guard Davion Bailey’s contested 3-point attempt swirled around the rim before falling to the hardwood.
The thousands in attendance at Worthen Arena quickly left in silence, and Jihad said he’d like to have that layup back.
“I gotta finish that,” he said.
However, Lewis felt Jihad should have had a better look at the basket, once again citing poor execution as the reason for a Ball State loss.
The other pivotal point in the contest, Lewis said, was a sequence towards the end of the second half where the Cardinals’ last lead of the game slipped out of reach. Up 71-65 with four minutes to go, the Ball State student section grew livelier than it had been all season.
On the next three offensive possessions for Akron, senior guards Mikal Dawson and Greg Tribble hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to take the lead back – one the Zips never relinquished.
“I’m hurt,” Jalin Anderson said.
The junior guard finished with 21 points, his fifth 20-point game of the season, yet he held his head in his hands anyway.
“It’s all about winning,” Anderson said. “I made a lot of mistakes in this game, but I wish I could get some of those back.”
Lewis noted the performance from two preseason All-MAC selections out of Akron (11-4, 3-0 MAC), senior forward Enrique Freeman and senior guard Ali Ali. Freeman notched a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double and Ali scored a team-high 17 points; but the real difference maker for the Zips was their bench production.
Ball State’s second unit, which saw a combined 34 minutes, was outscored 22-1 against Akron. This comes just three days after Central Michigan’s bench outscored the Cardinals’ 25-2.
Lewis looked to his right at Anderson, who played all 40 minutes for Ball State, then looked to his left at Jihad who saw 29 minutes of action.
“It’s a concern,” Lewis said about Ball State’s bench production. “We knew what the challenges were when the season started.”
The second-year head coach hoped to see improvement from the bench in practice moving forward, otherwise he’ll have to continue playing his starters for the majority of most games.
“We got guys in new roles and bigger roles for the first time,” Lewis said. “Everybody wants a bigger role; everybody wants the next big job. Sometimes, the responsibilities and the things that come along with that, they don't want.”
This marked the first time in Lewis’ brief tenure that Ball State has lost consecutive home games, but although Akron came into Worthen Arena a 7.5-point favorite, there were 12 lead changes throughout. Lewis spoke in a lower tone than he had all season, yet he said the Cardinals have grown with each Mid-American Conference (MAC) game so far.
“I hope these guys have a vision of what they can be,” Lewis said. “I’m hurt because of how hard these guys played, but I'm going to sleep a little bit better than I did the other night.”
Ball State (8-7, 0-3 MAC) hits the road for its next contest, another MAC contest against Toledo (9-6, 3-0 MAC) in Toledo, Ohio, Saturday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m.