If Ball State men’s basketball’s loss to Ohio (13-10, 7-4 MAC) had to be summed up in one sequence, it came with about eight minutes left in the 2nd half. Although there were still eight lead changes left before the Bobcats emerged victorious in overtime, a series of events between Jalin Anderson and Michael Lewis defined the contest.
On offense, Anderson had the ball stripped from him on a chance to tie the game at 56. The junior guard threw his hands in the air and showed little effort on the following defensive drive.
Although Ohio did not extend its lead on the subsequent possession, a timeout was called soon after at the 7:46 mark. As the Cardinals came together for their huddle, Lewis pointed at the chair closest to his and Anderson took a seat.
The second-year head coach turned to his left and took a moment to address Anderson and Anderson only. Lewis said he was playing psychologist.
“You've got to be able to have some composure in stressful situations when things are difficult, and we struggled with that tonight,” he said.
The next five Ball State points scored came courtesy of Anderson and the Cardinals took the lead. However, the Bobcats never truly found themselves down and out, especially when junior forwards Basheer Jihad and Mickey Pearson Jr. picked up their fourth fouls with seven minutes to go.
Pearson said this predicament did change his approach on defense, not allowing him to be as aggressive as he would have liked.
“I tried not to pick up the fifth [foul], but I was just trying to compete as hard as I can,” he said.
The two squads traded blows for the final six minutes of regulation, as Ohio remained focused despite a 10-3 Ball State run to start the second half. However, during the final few moments of regulation, each squad’s shot selection grew worse and worse. Two blocked Pearson jumpers stood out to Lewis, in particular.
“There's no reason to ever get a jump shot blocked,” Lewis said. “If you got a jump shot that gets blocked, it's a bad shot.”
However, Lewis recognized Pearson’s contributions to the Cardinals as a whole, as the Alabama native dropped 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“We don't have an opportunity to win the game without him tonight,” Lewis said.
Ohio’s shot selection down the stretch was also suspect, as junior guard Jaylin Hunter took a heavily contested mid-range shot with a chance to take the lead with eight seconds left. Anderson followed it up with an equally questionable contested 3-pointer which clanked off the backboard as time expired.
Having overcome an initial 13-0 Ohio run to start the game, Ball State put together a strong second half to even force overtime. In fact, the Cardinals first lead of the game didn’t come until the 13:38 mark in the second half.
However, their record after regulation on the season slipped to 0-2, and it may have been trouble at the free throw line that did the Cardinals in.
Hunter sank a free throw with 37 seconds left to give Ohio a 79-78 lead, and Anderson followed it up with another 3-pointer with about 10 seconds left on the shot clock and 17 seconds left on the game clock.
Although the ball fell short of the rim, Anderson was fouled on the play and had the chance to give Ball State a two-point lead with less than 20 seconds to go.
missed all three free throws, and Ohio remained ahead by one.
Ball State fouled and Ohio extended its lead to three points, but Middleton quickly drew a foul on the next possession. Just like Anderson, he missed his first free throw, and the Bobcats clinched the 84-79 win.
In overtime, the Cardinals shot 1-6 from the charity stripe, and shot 12-19 as a whole. For comparison, the Bobcats shot 21-26. Heading into this contest, Ball State shot an average of 76 percent from the free-throw line.
Lewis didn’t believe struggles at the line defined Ball State’s loss, but rather, the Cardinals’ lack of composure down the stretch.
“These guys are capable; tonight, they didn't go in,” Lewis said. “I'm more concerned with how we handle some of these situations in the heat of the moment.”
Anderson sat to Lewis’ left with his hands clasped together and on the table in front of him. He gave honor to Jesus Christ, as he does after each game, win or loss.
He respected the privacy that comes with conversations held in a team huddle, not going into detail about what was said when Lewis spoke to him directly during a timeout in the second half.
And he said there isn’t a difference, to him, between an overtime loss and a regulation loss. The outcome is still the same.
“That's basketball, it's going to be good and bad,” Anderson said. “22 points, that stuff doesn't matter to me. We didn't win, and I had a chance to win it.”
The Tennessee native led the Cardinals with 22 points and was joined by three others in double-digit figures. However, Ohio’s Hunter finished with a game-high 22 points.
This was Ball State’s seventh straight loss to the Bobcats, including a 20-point loss in the first round of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship tournament in March 2023.
This is Ohio’s sixth win in its last seven games, and the loss puts Ball State in ninth in the MAC standings. With just eight games remaining, including three straight road contests coming up, every result carries a bit more meaning with a spot in the MAC championship tournament potentially dangling in the balance.
Pearson, Anderson and Lewis all said these stakes don’t change Ball State’s approach, as they have gone into all 23 games this season with winning in mind. However, now sitting at 4-7 in the MAC and 12-11 overall, Lewis recognized the importance of maturity as the regular season winds down.
“When things don't go your way, you've got to be able to navigate that and find different ways to be successful,” Lewis said. “That's where we really struggle, and we got to grow up.”
The Cardinals return to action when they travel to San Marcos, Texas, for their second matchup in the MAC-Sun Belt Challenge, this time against Texas State (9-14, 3-8 SBC) Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. ET.