MUNCIE, Ind. – The Ball State men’s basketball team was within a single possession of Mid-American Conference leader Toledo in the final minute Saturday before falling 80-73.
The Cardinals rallied from double-digit deficits twice but were never able to completely seize control at Worthen Arena. Ball State (4-17, 1-9 MAC) hurt its chances with 14 second-half turnovers after giving it away just seven times in the first half.
Toledo (20-3, 8-2 MAC), owner of the best record in the MAC and an RPI of 31, reached the 20-win mark and maintained its spot alone atop the league’s West Division standings.
Zavier Turner led Ball State with 19 points, while Majok Majok logged his eighth double-double of the year with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Chris Bond joined them in double figures with 12 points, including a highlight-reel dunk as part of a big run for the Cardinals to close the first half.
“I thought we executed on the offensive end as well as we have in a long time,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “We were right there to win the game, and I was proud of our guys for the way they competed.”
Rian Pearson led four Toledo scorers in double figures with 20 points and hit a clutch fade-away jumper with 28 seconds left that turned the Rockets’ three-point edge into a five-point lead at 76-71. Ball State turned the ball over on the following possession, and Toledo was able to lock up the win at the free throw line.
Ball State trailed by as many as 15 points less than 12 minutes into the game before scoring 17 unanswered and grabbing the lead at 35-33 on a breakaway dunk by Quinten Payne. Toledo finally ended an 8-minute scoring drought on a layup by Pearson, and the teams went to the locker room knotted at 35-35.
“I didn’t feel like we defended with the level of energy we needed to through the first three media timeouts, but we turned up the intensity from that point on,” Whitford said. “For about the next eight minutes, it was outstanding. I was so proud of our guys. It was as good as it has been since I’ve been here. We were able to really turn defense into offense.”
Toledo again had the stronger start to the second half, regaining the lead and pushing it to as many as 13 points at 57-44 with 11:33 to play. Ball State rallied once more, cutting it to one at 62-61 on a pair of Majok free throws at the 7:03 mark. The Cardinals then had a chance to grab the lead the next time down, but Bond could not connect on a pair of foul shots.
Ball State was again within one at 68-67 after Turner hit four free throws that resulted from a personal foul and technical foul whistled against Toledo’s Julius Brown. The Rocket point guard fouled out on the play with 4:22 left, but Toledo managed to hang on to its slim lead.
Two more Turner free throws brought the Cardinals within 74-71 with one minute to play, but Pearson answered with his fade away at the other end, just getting the difficult shot off over the outstretched hand of Bond.
Brown finished with 18 points in just 25 minutes for Toledo, while Justin Drummond added 12 and Boothe had 11. The Rockets shot 49.1 percent and, while they made only 2 of 12 attempts from beyond the arc, they connected on 24 of 41 inside of it.
Ball State shot 39.2 percent and finished 7 of 25 from 3-point range. Jesse Berry added eight points and Franko House finished with seven points and eight boards. House helped the Cardinals to a 39-33 rebounding advantage over a Toledo team that entered the game with the best rebounding margin in the league.
Saturday’s game was the first of three in a row at home for Ball State, which will be back in action Wednesday with a 7 p.m. tipoff at Worthen Arena against Eastern Michigan.