'Energy is contagious:' Ball State defeats Central Michigan in road game

<p>Junior forward Mickey Pearson fights for the tip against Eastern Michigan Feb. 24 at Worthen Arena. Pearson played 35 minutes of the game. Andrew Berger, DN </p>

Junior forward Mickey Pearson fights for the tip against Eastern Michigan Feb. 24 at Worthen Arena. Pearson played 35 minutes of the game. Andrew Berger, DN

After falling to Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Feb. 24, Ball State head coach Michael Lewis said his team had yet to prove to him that they were a championship or even a tournament team. To the Cardinals, this was just motivation. 

“We just got to go out and do the things that we know each and every day,” junior Mickey Pearson Jr. said. 

In tonight’s road matchup with the No. 3 team in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), the black and red did that as they handed Central Michigan (16-12, 10-5 MAC) a 79-71 loss. 

During the practices leading up to their match with Central Michigan, Lewis believed they were firing on all cylinders. While he stated his coaching methods may not have worked in the past, something clicked with the Cardinals in the days prior. 

“I am who I am,” Lewis said. “I've been doing this for a while and I feel like I got a pretty good beat on human beings.”

The contest at McGuirk Arena started with Ball State’s (14-14, 6-9 MAC) offense in a good spot. At the 15:18 mark, the Cardinals led the Chippewas 11-5. This was due to multiple baskets from Pearson and junior Jalin Anderson. 

Yet the trend that continued throughout the game kicked off as the Chippewas returned with a 12-0 scoring run and took a 17-11 lead a few moments later. Following that, Ball State and Central Michigan began going toe-to-toe until halftime, where the Cardinals led 38-31.

In the first half, Ball State went 14-for-31 (45.2 percent) from the field. After every bucket and 3-pointer – the Cardinals went 6-for-15 from deep in the opening half – the black and red seemed to have more energy. They seemed excited, from celebrating tough finishes to hand gestures after a successful 3-pointer.

However, junior Davion Bailey believes the team has had that in them all season. 

“We came into the game with the same mindset we come into every day,” he said. “How we approach the game is one of the biggest things, but the biggest thing is allowing our [hard] work to show.” 

After the break, the Cardinals took the court with more fire and continued to build their lead. This was due to their ability to rebound the ball and stay aggressive. Ball State ended the game out-rebounding Central Michigan 37 to 30.

Yet grabbing boards was just another factor of the Cardinals’ energetic play style. This type of basketball allowed Pearson – who finished with 25 points, a season-high and career-high – and Bailey – who had 18 points – to lead Ball State offensively. It also helped their teammates to find success. 

“[Pearson] came out with great energy,” Lewis said. “Energy is contagious.” 

While Ball State’s offense helped lay the groundwork for the victory, the one issue the red and black have had during the season returned; closing out games. At the 6:39 mark in the second half, Pearson sank two free throws. Ball State did not score again until freshman Trent Middleton Jr. hit two free throws with 25 seconds remaining in the game. 

However, Lewis was pleased about the Cardinals’ performance and believes for 35 minutes, they did what they were capable of. 

“I think when you have high-character kids like we have, unfortunately, this team has been through a lot,” Lewis said. “Some are things people know, some things people don't know. But these guys have stayed with it.”

With the win, Ball State’s chances of making the MAC Tournament have improved. However, the Cardinals still sit at No.9 and are one game behind Western Michigan (10-18, 7-8 MAC), who is No.8. This will make the red and black’s next matchup important as the Broncos visit Worthen Arena on Saturday, March 2. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. 

 “We got to stack this game with others,” Bailey said. “Improve on the things that we struggled with tonight and also keep up the things that we did well.”

Though the Cardinals inch closer to competing in the conference tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, Lewis is still taking it game-by-game. 

“I'm just trying to get us to play as well as we can so that they can have the best possible experience,” Lewis said. “Obviously, for them, going to Cleveland would be a better experience. We just got to play good basketball, and that's all we can focus on.” 

Contact Zach Carter with comments at zachary.carter@bsu.edu or on X@ZachCarter85.


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