MUNCIE, Ind. -- A tough shooting night against one of the best defenses in the Mid-American Conference hurt the Ball State men's basketball team Saturday in a 56-50 loss to Eastern Michigan at Worthen Arena.
But Ball State (10-14, 4-8 MAC) could not maintain a fast start to the game and could not overcome a long field goal drought to begin the second half. The Cardinals, short-handed for the third game in a row because of injuries, utilized mainly a seven-man rotation.
"Give Eastern Michigan a lot of credit; their zone was very good," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. "They have a lot of length on the perimeter, and as a result we fell into the trap of not being able to penetrate the zone. We took more 3's than we had points in the paint, which is never a good formula against their 2-3 zone."
Ball State, coming off back-to-back wins, knocked down six of its first 11 shots from the floor and built a 14-5 lead less than eight minutes into the game. Eastern Michigan (11-13, 5-6 MAC) then out-scored the Cardinals 19-7 over the next 11:30 to take a lead of its own before a 3-pointer by Chase Brogna sent the teams to the locker room tied at 24-24.
Coming out of halftime, Ball State went 11 minutes without a field goal. Eastern Michigan, meanwhile, was heating up. The Eagles, which made 12 of their 19 second-half shot attempts, opened up a lead as large as 13 points at 50-37 on a layup from Sims with 2:48 to play.
Ball State rallied with an 11-1 run late to close the gap to 51-48. After an Eastern Michigan free throw, the Cardinals took possession trailing by four with 23 seconds left, but the Eagles stole the ball and scored on the other end to hold off the Ball State rally.
The Cardinals finished the game 5-for-27 from 3-point range against Eastern Michigan's zone. They struggled to work the ball inside against a lengthy EMU defense that entered the game holding opponents to 39 percent shooting and 25 percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
Glenn Bryant III led Eastern Michigan with 20 points and J.R. Sims scored 18 on 7-for-8 shooting and 4-for-5 from the 3-point line. Austin Harper used his quickness to get into the paint and dished out seven assists for the Eagles.
"Defensively, we pressured the ball and forced some turnovers," Taylor said, "but we weren't nearly as disciplined as we needed to be, and we really let two guys dominate the game."
With the win, Eastern Michigan earned a split of the season series between the teams. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 60-58 in Ypsilanti, Mich., in January in the first game of the MAC season.
Ball State now has a week off before returning to action Saturday, Feb. 23 at Southeast Missouri in the Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters. The team will then have four MAC games left, starting Feb. 27 at home against Central Michigan.