For the first time since the 1988-89 season, Ball State faced Texas State in Saturday’s Mid-American Conference (MAC) vs Sun Belt Conference (SBS) Challenge.
While the Cardinals were looking to rebound from their overtime loss to Ohio on Tuesday, Feb. 6, the contest in San Marcos, Texas did not go their way. After 40 minutes of basketball, Ball State fell 68-60.
After the game, Ball State head coach Michael Lewis expressed his feelings about the event via a Zoom call.
“If we have to play, we might as well try to win,” Lewis said. “I don't think it's what's best for our program, and in my opinion, what’s best for the league.”
He mentioned things like Ball State’s budget and how a game like this does not help the program.
“It's gonna add a significant expense to what you're trying to do,” he said. “It just doesn't make a bunch of sense to me.”
Even though he may look down on the event, he also looked down on how his team performed. After the Bobcats hit the first basket of the contest, the Cardinals went on a 10-0 run. A few minutes later, Texas State only trailed 13-11 after an 8-0 run.
“The consistency of how we operate on both ends of the court is not where it needs to be,” Lewis said. “... We’re up 13-4 [in the opening minutes] and everybody's hooting and hollering and they think things are easy, right?
“Then a turnover comes, or we miss a shot here, and we start breaking down when we're in transition.”
After the first five minutes, that’s where the mistakes started to affect the Cardinals. Missed shots, turnovers, and other issues began to occur on multiple possessions. This aided the Bobcats, who went into halftime up 37-31.
One item that was a thorn in the Cardinals’ side was their defense. While there were glimpses of promise, they allowed the Bobcats to score 22 bench points while Ball State had zero. Texas State finished the game with 39 bench points while the red and black never had a bench player find the basket.
According to Lewis, some of the issues while guarding the Bobcat’s bench came down to physicality and letting them do whatever they wanted. Yet Ball State also played a role in their success as Texas State grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.
“We try to dribble a loose ball and sort of pick it up with two hands,” Lewis said. “We tried to reach out and bat balls around. When you're against a superior athletic and superior physical team, you're not going to come up with those balls in those situations.”
In the Cardinals’ last three games, freshman Trent Middleton Jr. has started. During Saturday’s contest, he did so again, scoring 11 points on 3-for-6 shooting. He also went 2-for-4 from deep. While he seemed to have a rhythm on offense, his defensive performance was not to his head coach’s liking.
“His ability on [offense] is getting better and improving. His defensive abilities had improved,” Lewis said. “But they have taken a major step back. I thought he was atrocious [tonight]. That's about as kind of a word that I can say [about] the defensive end of the floor.”
Other stat lines from the game included junior Basheer Jihad, who led the Cardinals with 19 points and nine rebounds. He was followed by junior Mickey Pearson Jr. who finished with 13 points. The Cardinals finished the loss going 19-for-49 (38.8 percent) from the field and 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) from deep.
Ball State currently sits at No. 9 in the MAC and has seven conference games left on their schedule. Lewis has talked about his team’s ability to grow up throughout the season. While he believes they have, there is still work to be done.
“I'm not sure how they felt like the year was gonna go. It really never turns out exactly how you see it, whether good or bad,” Lewis said. “I'm not sure what their expectations were. A lot of guys have very selfish opinions when it comes to thinking like that.”
Ball State will attempt to find the win column when the Cardinals travel to face Miami on Saturday, Feb. 17. While Lewis believes the red and black have the potential to find success, they first need to find a way to help themselves.
“It's your habits that come out when things are difficult,” Lewis said. “When things get tough, that's when your true habits and who you truly are as a person come out, and these guys are still in the process of figuring out who they are.”
The Ball State Daily News requested to interview Jihad and Middleton. Those requests were denied.
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