Ball State mens basketball stays alive in MAC Tournament contention, beats Kent State

Junior guard Davion Bailey looks to pass the ball during the game against Kent State Mar. 5 at Worthen Arena. Bailey had seven rebounds during the game. Kate Tilbury, DN
Junior guard Davion Bailey looks to pass the ball during the game against Kent State Mar. 5 at Worthen Arena. Bailey had seven rebounds during the game. Kate Tilbury, DN

When Ben Hendriks walked onto the court at Worthen Arena for tipoff against Kent State, it appeared as if he was fully healthy. When he walked into the post-game press conference after playing his most minutes in Mid-American Conference (MAC) play in a 76-69 victory, he looked like he had just been put through the ringer.

Hair multiple different colors, matted down on his forehead due to the sweat that covered his body, Hendriks smiled as he answered questions about family and work ethic, sporting a boot on his right foot and a brace on his right shoulder. 

The 6-foot, 10-inch Ontario, Canada, native has been playing with injuries nearly the entire season, with surgery scheduled for the end of the season for a neuroma on his right foot. In the surgery, he has to get a nerve removed from his foot. 

“It’s not gonna get any worse,” Hendriks said. “Knowing that, I’m just pushing through it. It hurts, but at the end of the day I just gotta be there for my teammates.” 

Head coach Michael Lewis spoke for Hendriks and said the feeling of playing through an injury is “not pleasant,” which Hendriks agreed with as he laughed. 

“When your adrenaline’s pumping, it helps for sure,” Hendriks said. “Maybe after the game it hurts a little bit more.” 

Lewis looked to his right at Hendriks and praised the redshirt junior for his development during the season. He gave him added credit for playing 30 minutes against the Golden Flashes with nagging injuries. 

“We’re probably gonna have to give him the next two days off,” Lewis said. 

The second-year head coach gave kudos to redshirt junior Mickey Pearson Jr. for playing through numerous injuries such as lower back and achilles issues throughout the season, too. Lewis looked to his left at junior guard Davion Bailey, attributing his growth to his willingness to buy in to the culture the coaching staff cultivates. 

“He’s starting to realize when he makes the mistakes that we’re talking about, whereas before he looked at us like, ‘What’re you talking about?’” Lewis said. 

Bailey dropped 20 points in Ball State’s crucial win against Kent State, and his performance was as important as ever with the absence of the Cardinals’ leading scorer Basheer Jihad looming. Jihad, who fell hard and was slow to get up during Ball State’s March 2 loss against Western Michigan, is missing time with a lower back injury.

Junior center Ben Hendricks puts the ball up for two against Kent State Mar. 5 at Worthen Arena. Hendricks scored 11 points in the game. Kate Tilbury, DN

Jihad missed some time in the Cardinals’ previous contest against the Broncos, and Bailey said he and his teammates are always operating with a “next man up” mentality. His mentality was the same against the Flashes. 

“We just looked at it as an opportunity for us to step up, and get us a win,” Bailey said. 

Ball State led for most of the victory, even holding the lead for the first 29 minutes of play until a free throw from Muncie, Indiana, native Reggie Bass at the 10:40 mark gave Kent State its first lead of the night. For a five-minute stretch in the middle of the second half, the Golden Flashes went on a 15-3 run, taking a 53-50 lead at one point. 

However, three points was the Flashes’ biggest lead of the game, as Ball State ended up outscoring Kent State 26-16 from that point on. Bass led Kent State with 17 points in the loss.

“It hasn't always shown up in the win column, but these guys have gotten better,” Lewis said. “They're growing, they're making less mistakes and that’s what we’re trying to build here.”

Junior guard Jalin Anderson led the Cardinals with 23 points and was one of four Ball State players to hit the double-digit mark. Hendriks, injuries and all, tied his career-high in scoring with 11 points. 

This achievement was made all the more special with Hendriks’ father, Rob, crossing the Canadian border to visit Muncie and watch his son. Ben said his parents are always keeping up with the Cardinals, whether on television or the radio, but to spend time with his father in-person is a different level of support. 

“You want your parents to be there, and it's even more special that they're able to come down here from up in Canada,” he said. “But I mean, if they’re there or not they're not, you want to play your best.” 

This win keeps Ball State in contention for the No. 8 and final seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament. However, the Cardinals’ fate won’t be decided by just themselves. Not only does Ball State have to defeat Bowling Green (18-12, 9-8 MAC) on the road Friday, March 8, but Western Michigan (11-19, 8-9 MAC) must lose to Akron (21-9, 13-4 MAC) at home that same evening.

Although the Cardinals’ season hangs in the balance Friday at 7 p.m., Bailey said there is no added pressure heading into the matchup but did not underscore the importance of the final 40 minutes of the regular season. 

“It means everything,” Bailey said.

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


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