Ball State men's basketball fails to reach MAC Tournament with loss to Bowling Green

Junior forward Basheer Jihad tries to get around a defender against Bowling Green Jan. 30 at Worthen Arena. Jihad scored 22 points in the game. Mya Cataline, DN
Junior forward Basheer Jihad tries to get around a defender against Bowling Green Jan. 30 at Worthen Arena. Jihad scored 22 points in the game. Mya Cataline, DN

Editor's Note: A more extended look at Ball State men's basketball's 2023-24 season will be published in print Thursday, March 14, and online shortly thereafter.

BOWLING GREEN, OHIO – Before the final buzzer sounded in the Stroh Center, Ball State men’s basketball’s fate was already sealed. Less than 30 minutes prior, Western Michigan defeated Akron, spoiling the three-part scenario that Ball State needed to earn entry into the upcoming Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament. 

Along with a Western Michigan loss, the Cardinals needed to defeat Bowling Green and Toledo to beat Kent State. Only one of those three happened, as the Rockets handled the Golden Flashes 86-71. 

Ball State walked off the court for the final time this season 10-point losers, falling to Bowling Green 80-70. This is the first time since the MAC Tournament moved to only including No. 1-8 seeds in 2020 that Ball State hasn’t qualified. Additionally, the 7-11 conference record is the worst since the 2018-19 season. 

“I'm not disappointed in what this team accomplished,” head coach Michael Lewis said. “Am I disappointed in where we are after year two? Yes, and I take responsibility for that because of the success we had last year and the momentum I thought we built.” 

In short, this was not the season the Cardinals expected coming off a 20-12, 11-7 MAC season in 2023. Much has been said about Ball State’s four top scorers from last season either transferring or graduating, but Lewis never used these losses as an excuse for the trouble the Cardinals had throughout the season.

“It's an ever-changing landscape,” Lewis said. “I'm not sure that it's easier than it was when I had the opportunity to go through it.” 

In his four years at Indiana University playing for the late head coach Bob Knight, Lewis never missed a NCAA Tournament appearance despite the B1GTEN Tournament not yet existing. 

Heading into the Cardinals’ game against Bowling Green, the biggest question mark was whether or not Ball State’s leading scorer, junior forward Basheer Jihad, would play after missing the Tuesday, March 5, game against Kent State. 

He did more than just play, he made the start against the Falcons and participated in a shared-team-high 38 minutes. Jihad said no extra treatment was required to ensure his availability in the contest, but he felt his 4/16 shooting night was partly due to his discomfort. 

“I feel like I missed some shots today that I normally don't,” Jihad said. “That's just how it goes.” 

The Detroit native still ended the game with 15 points and will finish the season averaging more than 18 points and eight rebounds per game, both good for team highs. Jihad jumped from one start in his previous two seasons to 28 starts this season en route to probable All-MAC Team selection.

“A bigger role [means] more opportunity,” Jihad said. “I made sure I prepared for it in the offseason, so when I got that chance to be that guy, I took it head on and tried to do my best.” 

Junior guard Jalin Anderson looks for a pass from under the basket against Bowling Green Jan. 30 at Worthen Arena. Anderson had three rebounds in the game. Andrew Berger, DN

Despite Jihad’s availability, junior guard Davion Bailey, who finished the season averaging 12.3 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting from beyond the 3-point line, broke his foot on a non-contact play in practice Thursday, March 7. In his absence, Ball State only hit five 3-pointers against Bowling Green.

Junior guard Jalin Anderson led Ball State with 22 points, rising to the occasion with numerous teammates around him banged up. 

“Coach needed me to step up, my teammates needed me to step up, so I was ready for whatever to help us win,” Anderson said. 

Lewis said it was this mentality that defined the approach the Cardinals took to the season as a whole. Despite finishing with a losing record, the second-year head coach said none of those losses were for a lack of effort.

“A lot of people in their age group run when it gets hard, and these guys haven't done that,” Lewis said. “We haven't quite figured out how to get to that other side, but there's great rewards on the other side.

“You never know when the ball is going to stop for you. For these guys to be able to fight through some of the things they fought through, it’s easy to walk away. They just kept knocking on that door.” 

While Anderson was undoubtedly disappointed with how Ball State’s season ended, he remained optimistic about the future, while also putting his entire reason for suiting up every night into perspective.

“I mean, it’s a kid’s game,” Anderson said. “We’re just doing what we love.”

Four Cardinals finished in double figures, including 10 points from freshman forward Mason Jones and redshirt junior center Ben Hendriks. Just like every other member of the roster, Lewis credited both workhorses for displaying the identity of Ball State night in and night out: fight.

"They brought it every day, and that's a fun group to coach," Lewis said.

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


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