Same mistakes continue to haunt Ball State men's basketball in loss to Eastern Michigan

<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

For the seventh time of the season, the final score of a Ball State men's basketball game ended with the winning team only victorious by one or two possessions. 

The Cardinals only emerged the victor in two of those seven games, none of them in conference play. In all five Mid-American Conference (MAC) games that ended within six points or less, Ball State has lost. 

Against Eastern Michigan, it all came down to a final play with 3.3 seconds remaining. The Eagles were leading 58-56, and Ball State head coach Michael Lewis called a timeout to draw up a play to win or extend the game.

After the game, Lewis broke down what he wanted out of the final play, either a look at Basheer Jihad for a 15-foot jumper or three dribbles through a broken half court defense for a pull-up jumper.

“We talked about both scenarios in the huddle,” Lewis said. “We talked about 3.3 seconds in the huddle – 3.3 seconds equals at least three dribbles – and we take one dribble and fire up a shot, which is exactly what we asked not to do.” 

Junior guard Jalin Anderson chucked up a half-court shot, hitting no part of the basket. Seconds later, the Ball State pep band played the university’s fight song, per usual, as the Cardinals hung their heads in defeat.

“We had multiple chances to take the game and run away with it, we didn’t have the willpower to do so,” Jihad said. “We continue to make the same mistakes.”

The same mistakes such as missed defensive assignments and giving up offensive rebounds, he said. 

“When it's time to make the plays needed to win a game, you just gotta make them,” Mickey Pearson Jr. said. “It hurt all of us, we’re all frustrated, we all thought we should have had this one.”

Ball State held a 27-26 lead at halftime, but neither squad looked to be a clear favorite. However, the Cardinals started the second half playing their best basketball of the game, leading by a game-high six points with less than nine minutes remaining.

Eastern Michigan grabbed its first lead of the second half at the 6:22 mark with a 3-pointer from junior Jalin Billingsley. However, Ball State junior guard Davion Bailey followed that up with a layup to take the one-point lead. 

That was the last field goal Ball State scored. The Cardinals made one of its last 15 shots from the field, and one of its last 11 3-pointers. 

Billingsley, who finished with 17 points, ended up fouling out within the final two minutes of the game. However, the Eagles still had the game's leading scorer, junior guard Tyson Acuff (19 points), to lead the way in victory.

Jihad finished with his ninth double-double of the season, dropping 18 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, but he knows Ball State can’t win games based on just one player. He felt the Cardinals’ will power was lacking against the Eagles.

“It’s just a concentrated effort to make the extra plays, even if you're tired,” Jihad said. “It’s the extra push to do that little thing to create an impact on the game.” 

In the second half, Ball State landed at 21 percent from 3-point land and 31 percent from the field. The Cardinals shot 20 percent from beyond the arc and just 34 percent overall.

“I think for the most part we were getting decent looks but it wasn't falling,” Pearson, who finished with 13 points, said.

Lewis disagreed. In fact, he pointed toward Ball State’s shot selection as the biggest reason for the loss. 

“It's not like we got five J.J. Redick’s out there,” Lewis said. “For the most part, we take good open threes – we didn't do that today.” 

Lewis opened up his post game comments by taking the defeat on the chin, blaming himself because of a self-proclaimed lack of ability to get through to players. 

“I can’t get them to follow directions,” Lewis said. “Either my communication or their ability to comprehend, one of them is lacking.”


Ball State head Coach Micheal Lewis yells for movement from his team against Eastern Michigan Feb. 24 at Worthen Arena. Ball State lost to Eastern Michigan 58-56. Andrew Berger, DN

Kent State (6-8 MAC) lost to Akron (20-7, 12-2 MAC)  Friday, Feb. 23, sliding from sixth to eighth in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) standings before Saturday’s slate. With this loss, Ball State stays in ninth, one game behind Kent State in the MAC standings. 

Although Ball State lost to Kent State earlier in the season, the Cardinals have the same overall record (13-14) as the Golden Flashes (13-14). As just four games remain in the season, time is ticking for Ball State to secure a position within the top eight to make the MAC tournament.

Lewis thought back to last season, recalling a meeting between a core group of players who came together for the final stretch of the season. Although the Cardinals finished the regular season losing four of their last five games, they still made the MAC Tournament. 

“We haven't been able to get this group to meet us halfway,” Lewis said. “They still want to do some things their way. That's on me, because I haven't been able to break some of those habits.”

However, seeding scenarios and what ifs seem to be the furthest thing from the second-year head coach’s mind, sitting at 5-9 in conference play.

“I'm trying to get this team to play as well as they can play,” Lewis said. “If we end up in Cleveland, we end up in Cleveland. If we don't end up in Cleveland, we're not good enough. This team is so far from competing for a championship. I haven't even given that much thought yet.

“I didn't think we competed real hard today, which is disappointing when you've got something like this that you're playing for. Maybe that's too big, I don't know.”

Ball State returns to action Tuesday, Feb. 27, when the Cardinals travel to Mount Pleasant, Mich., to take on Central Michigan (16-11, 10-4 MAC) at 7 p.m. 

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


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