Ball State men's basketball successful in must-win contest against Northern Illinois

Junior guard Jalin Anderson circumvents the opposing team Jan. 20 against Miami at Worthen Arena. Anderson scored 13 points in the game. Isaiah Wallace, DN.
Junior guard Jalin Anderson circumvents the opposing team Jan. 20 against Miami at Worthen Arena. Anderson scored 13 points in the game. Isaiah Wallace, DN.

Ball State men’s basketball head coach Michael Lewis said after the Cardinals’ 21-point loss to Miami (OH) Feb. 16, conversations within the program were focused on using that defeat for motivation. With just six games left on the slate heading into the Feb. 20th game against Northern Illinois and sitting at ninth place in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) standings, Lewis assured his squad to control what they can control as the season becomes do or die. 

“Try to be 1-0 today,” he told them ahead of tipoff against the Huskies. 

Despite trailing for 30 minutes of the 40-minute affair, Ball State (13-13, 5-8 MAC) snapped its three-game losing streak with a 70-63 defeat against Northern Illinois (9-17, 3-9 MAC).

“We got that accomplished,” Lewis said.

On top of the key win, junior guard Jalin Anderson reached a pivotal milestone in the process. With a free throw to put Ball State ahead 68-61 late in the fourth quarter, the Tennessee native claimed his 18th point of the game to reach 1,000 career points. 

Anderson, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, said he knew he was approaching the benchmark leading up to this game but didn’t know how close he was as the game progressed. 

“My girl was talking to me about it,” Anderson said. 

He assured Lewis he wasn’t purposefully trying to score 18+ points to reach the achievement. 

“He better not have,” Lewis joked as Anderson grinned beside him.

To stay consistent with his main focus throughout the entire season, Anderson said he felt joyful when he reached the milestone not for the glory, but because Ball State earned a victory in the process. 

The Cardinals got off to a slow start though, finishing the final 3:21 of the first half scoreless. There was a combined 16 turnovers in the first half as well. BSU is shooting 30 percent from the field and NIU is shooting 14 percent (2/14) from 3-pt range. 

Junior forward Basheer Jihad finished the first half 0/11 shooting with five of Ball State’s eight turnovers. He started the game 0/13 from the field before hitting his first field goal at the 15:04 mark in the second half. 

MBB v Ohio 2.JPG
Junior forward Basheer Jihad looks to pass the ball against Ohio Feb. 6 at Worthen Arena. Mya Cataline, DN

The Cardinals leading scorer on the season dropped his second-highest point total when these two squads battled in Jan. 2024, scoring 28 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the 10-point victory. 

Jihad said it wasn’t easy to bounce back from the first half he had this time around, but ended up finishing with 17 points (3/18 FG) and 10 rebounds, 11 of those points coming from a 85 percent free-throw shooting night. 

“That’s what I love about basketball: adversity,” Jihad said. “You can go into a game not wanting to play, but once that ball starts bouncing and something happens, you’re ready to fight back.”

Lewis felt like Jihad’s pace and consistent presence in the paint created opportunities for other Cardinals to contribute, a sentiment evident in the three other players joining Jihad in double-digit scoring. 

“That's the joy of coaching as you get to watch guys grow,” Lewis said. “He didn't let a poor shooting night affect how he defended or affect the pace he played with offensively.” 

Junior guard Davion Bailey was one of them, finishing with 15 points on a career-high five made 3-pointers. 

Fellow junior guard David Coit has given Ball State trouble both this season and last, finishing with 20+ points in all three contests against Michael Lewis led Cardinals. That continued in the first half, as Coit finished with 17 of Northern Illinois’ 31 points while the Huskies held a four-point lead. 

Northern Illinois was missing its No. 2 and No. 3 scorer against Ball State tonight as junior guard Zarique Nutter and sophomore forward Xavier Amos combine for around 29 points per game for the Huskies and did not play. 

Junior forward Mickey Pearson Jr., however, returned to the starting lineup for the Cardinals after missing the previous contest with back issues. He finished with 10 points.

Defense and staying poised under pressure were the keys for a successful Ball State second half, as the Cardinals only committed one second half turnover compared to six from Northern Illinois. Additionally, Ball State held Northern Illinois to 31 percent shooting in the second half and 34 percent overall, including 25 percent 3-point shooting.


Head coach Micheal Lewis calls a play as his team returns on offense Jan. 9 against Akron at Worthen Arena. Andrew Berger, DN

What really gave Northern Illinois fits toward the end of the game was a momentary switch to a 1-3-1 zone defense for Ball State, limiting the Huskies to move the ball around the perimeter and double teaming any time they stopped passing. 

“I thought we were able to do some things throughout the game that gave us a chance to win, and that's something that we haven't been that consistent with,” Lewis said. 

Lewis said the change in defense was necessary because of Northern Illinois’ fast break attack during its nine-point peak in the second half. He felt like the Huskies, and leading scorer Coit in particular, were getting too comfortable on offense. 

He finished with a game-high 28 points, and the only other Huskie to join him in double-digit scoring was sophomore forward Yanic Konan Niederhauser, who finished with 10 points despite fouling out.

This game against the Huskies and the next against Eastern Michigan Feb. 24 were the only two games remaining against squads lower in the conference standings than Ball State, placing more importance on this week’s slate than perhaps any other. Ball State remains behind eighth place Western Michigan (9-17, 6-7 MAC) after the Broncos snapped a five-game losing streak Feb. 20, but the Cardinals have a chance at their conference rival Saturday, March 2 in what could end up being the biggest game of the season. 

Jihad said this win against Northern Illinois was the first step toward reaching the lofty goal of punching a ticket to Cleveland. 

“It’s huge; we needed something like this,” Jihad said. “Something grimy and gritty to get us going.” 

Ball State returns to action Saturday, Feb. 24 for its first home contest in nearly three weeks when the Cardinals take on Eastern Michigan (9-16, 3-10 MAC) at 2 p.m. 

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


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