'Our season in a nutshell:' Ball State falls to Western Michigan after Broncos' buzzer-beater

Ball State head coach Michael Lewis reacts to a call Jan. 27 against Northern Illinois at Worthen Arena. Ball State beat Northern Illinois 81-71. Isaiah Wallace, DN.
Ball State head coach Michael Lewis reacts to a call Jan. 27 against Northern Illinois at Worthen Arena. Ball State beat Northern Illinois 81-71. Isaiah Wallace, DN.

In the Cardinals’ contest with Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon, Ball State junior Mickey Pearson went to the free throw line with one second left in overtime. He was fouled on a 3-point shot, which gave him a chance to tie the 76-74 difference or take the lead. 

The first shot bounced off the front of the rim, but the following two were nothing but net, tying the game 76-76. The crowd inside Worthen Arena cheered as they were likely expecting a second overtime. 

With the lone second on the game clock, Western Michigan sophomore JaVaughn Hannah inbounded the pass. He needed a full-court throw to give the Broncos a chance. 

After making the heave, the ball bounced past Ball State defenders. It landed in the hands of graduate student Anthony Crumb, who caught the ball mid-hop and laid in the game-sealing layup. 

A few minutes after the 78-76 defeat, juniors Jalin Anderson and Davion Bailey walked into the post-game press conference with blank expressions. Anderson only used one word to describe how it felt. 

“Bad,” he said.  

Ball State head coach Michael Lewis wasn’t much different. 

“You ever competed?” He asked. “Then you know [how it felt].” 

Yet, while the play made rounds on social media and was viewed as a 1-out-of-100 type play, it was something else to the Ball State men’s basketball program. 

“We defended the initial cut,” Lewis said. “A guy was left way up in the frontcourt… It was kind of our season in a nutshell.” 

With the loss, the Cardinals are 1-7 in home Mid-American Conference (MAC) games. While the stat is negative, the way the game ended also spoiled what was a mostly positive Ball State performance. The first sign of trouble came when the Cardinals’ leading scorer – junior Basheer Jihad – was in and out of the contest due to an injury and foul trouble. 

“It's next man up,” Bailey said. “ We look to him a lot, but we’re players just like him. When he's down or he's not able to produce like normal, it’s just time for the next guy to step up.” 

At first, it seemed the mindset may not have clicked with the Cardinals. At the 8:21 mark in the second half, Ball State (14-15, 6-10 MAC) trailed the Broncos 60-48. Throughout the 2023-24 campaign, the white and red have struggled to close out games. 

However, Ball State’s energy changed at that moment. 

“We gave up 19 offensive rebounds and we've talked for two days about transition defense and rebounding,” Lewis said. “After the first half, our transition defense was much better. You just can't rebound. It doesn't really take a skill. 

“It's a whole lot of want to and heart… Their physicality and their athleticism really hurt us and we had some individual breakdowns. You can't wait for somebody else to do it.” 

After multiple baskets from Anderson – who led the white and red with 25 points – and others, they came back to tie the game. Then another trend arrived; overtime struggles. Coming into the game, Ball State was 0-2 in contests that required extra time. 

Once again, the Cardinals flipped the script, challenging the Broncos (11-18, 8-8 MAC) and finding a way to stay competitive in the period. Yet the game-winning basket sealed the deal and sent Western Michigan into a frenzy. 

“I don't think it was the prettiest college basketball game,” Lewis said. “But it was a typical March basketball game, and to come up on the losing end of that one is difficult.”

In the loss, Ball State had four bench points while the Broncos finished with 20. Even though bench points have been a struggle throughout the season, the lack of depth continues to grow as freshman Joey Brown has been away from the team for the last three games. 

According to Lewis, Brown has been dealing with something relating to university protocol. At the time, he said that he could not go any deeper than that. 

Ball State will return to Worthen Arena Tuesday, March 5 as Kent State (14-14, 7-8 MAC) visits. The game is set to start at 7 p.m. The loss keeps the Cardinals in the No. 9 spot of the MAC, which is one spot away from competing in the conference tournament in Cleveland, Ohio. 

The loss could have a negative or positive effect on the Cardinals’ mindset. But if it does become a positive motivator, Lewis hopes his team already had that poise before the defeat. 

“These guys are college athletes. Listen, you don't get to this level, nor should you be at this level if you don't have an internal fire burning,” Lewis said. “Obviously, some players' fire burns a little brighter than others. 

“If we're looking for some sparks [now], we missed a few of those messages earlier in the year.”

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


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