MUNCIE, Ind. -- The Ball State men's basketball team survived a scare Saturday from Northern Illinois and pulled through for a 53-51 victory to secure the No. 5 seed and a bye in next week's Mid-American Conference Tournament.
Jauwan Scaife led the way with 17 points for the Cardinals (15-14, 8-8 MAC), who won for the fifth game in a row and the seventh time in the past eight. Darrell Bowie scored 10 points to pace the Huskies (5-24, 3-13 MAC).
Just one month ago, Ball State found itself at the bottom of the MAC standings. Now, the Cardinals' late season run has earned them a trip straight to Cleveland.
Ball State will play Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena against the winner of Monday's first round game between No. 8 seed Buffalo and No. 9 seed Central Michigan. Wednesday's game will be televised by Sports Time Ohio and carried on the Ball State Radio Network.
"We found a way to win," Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. "This time of year it's all about trying to find ways to win. Even though we did not have our best performance, I'm glad we could get it out of the way in a win and before we get to Cleveland. I'm just so proud of these guys for the resiliency they've shown throughout the course of this season."
Ball State trailed Saturday by as many as 16 points in the first half and as many as 11 in the second half against a pesky Northern Illinois team.
The Cardinals managed to fight through a 14-for-30 shooting effort at the free throw line and a 35-22 deficit on the boards. Only Indiana back in November out-rebounded Ball State by that many this year.
Yet, the Cardinals managed to stage a 14-3 run in the second half to swing the game in their favor. Scaife scored eight straight BSU points during that run, and Marcus Posley capped it with a driving lay-in to give the Cardinals their first lead at 47-46 with 5:13 to play.
A lay-up from Bowie briefly put Northern Illinois back on top, but Majok Majok answered two possessions later to give Ball State a lead it would not lose.
Still, the Cardinals had to stave off the Huskies in the final seconds. NIU had the ball trailing 52-51 with less than 10 seconds to play when Majok blocked Aksel Bolin's shot on a drive to the basket. Chris Bond hit one free throw on the other end, and Ball State held on when Antone Christian's last-second 3-point attempt went long.
Majok finished with three blocked shots to go along with nine points. Bond and Matt Kamieniecki scored eight points each for the Cardinals.
Playing against Northern Illinois' stingy defense, Ball State did not reach 85 points for the first time in five games, but the Cardinals scored just enough.
Ball State also celebrated Senior Day before Saturday's game as the Cardinals honored Scaife and Zach Fields prior to tipoff.