MUNCIE, Ind. -- The Ball State men’s basketball team saw a double-digit lead evaporate in the second half Saturday afternoon in a 67-65, overtime loss to Northern Illinois.
Senior forward Chris Bond led the Cardinals (4-15, 1-7 Mid-American Conference) with 16 points, while Jesse Berry added 13 and Zavier Turner 11. Aaric Armstead paced Northern Illinois with 14 points, helping the Huskies (9-11, 3-5 MAC) to their first win in the past eight meetings with Ball State.
Northern Illinois guard Travon Baker did not hit a shot from the floor through the first 39 minutes at Worthen Arena, but he nailed a 3-pointer late in regulation to tie the game and drilled another one in overtime to give the Huskies a lead they would not lose at 65-62.
Ball State eventually had the final possession in overtime trailing by two, but Bond’s driving lay-in wouldn’t fall and time ticked off as the teams battled for a loose ball rebound.
“It was a hard-fought game, a possession game,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “We expected it to be that way coming in. Northern Illinois is exceptional defensively and a very good rebounding team. We didn’t play perfect by any stretch, but we played well enough to win.”
Bond spent a good chunk of the second half on the bench with four fouls. Senior center Majok Majok also battled foul trouble and fouled out in the final minute of regulation, leaving the Cardinals without one of their best scorers and their top post defender in overtime.
Ball State also struggled uncharacteristically from the free throw line down the stretch. The Cardinals were shooting 76.2 percent from the line as a team in league play but made just 14 of 28 from the stripe Saturday, including 10 for 21 after halftime.
“We missed 14 free throws and that really hurt us in a game like this,” Whitford said. “There were also possessions here or there where we needed to be better.”
The Cardinals built an early lead by playing with energy, diving for loose balls and making hustle plays. They held their largest lead yet in a MAC game this season at 15 points on two occasions, the last time at 30-15 after a lay-in from Turner late in the first half.
But Northern Illinois scored the final seven points of the half and trailed 30-22 at the break. They clawed to within two at 38-36 early in the second half before a basket from Majok keyed an 8-0 run that pushed Ball State’s lead back to 10 points.
Northern Illinois, though, did not fade. The Huskies stormed back to grab their first lead since the opening minutes at 55-54 on a 3-pointer from Darrell Bowie with 3:39 left in regulation. NIU entered the game shooting 26.6 percent as a team from beyond the arc but knocked down 6 of 12 after halftime Saturday.
The teams traded the lead back and forth to close regulation, and Ball State made only 1 of 2 at the free throw line on two separate trips in the final minute that left the door cracked. Baker canned a 3 with 9 seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime, where the Huskies grabbed their second straight win by two points or fewer.
“It was our game to win,” Whitford said. “It’s disappointing, but it’s the nature of athletics. You have to deal with these things, and it’s how you deal with them that defines you. We have to learn and keep grinding and getting better.”
Majok finished with a game-high 11 rebounds, and Ball State held a 44-38 edge on the glass as a team. Both teams turned the ball over 15 times, but Northern Illinois outscored the Cardinals 23-8 in points off turnovers.Ball State will look to bounce back with a trip to Buffalo for a 7 p.m. tipoff Wednesday in the second meeting between the teams this season. The Cardinals handed the Bulls a 71-68 loss Jan. 23 in Muncie.