CLEVELAND, Ohio - The fourth-seeded Ball State men's basketball dropped a hard fought 79-68 contest to top-seeded Kent State Friday night in the 2011 FirstEnergy Mid-American Conference Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena.
The loss drops the Cardinals to 19-13 on the year while the Golden Flashes advance to the MAC Tournament Final with a 23-10 record. Ball State's 19 victories are tied for 11th most all-time in school history and are the most since the Cardinals finished the 2001-02 season with a 23-12.
"I am exceptionally proud of this team," head coach Billy Taylor said. "It is always hard when you season comes to an end, but I am really proud of what these guys accomplished. To come from where they have come from and accomplished what they did it is a reflection of their character and commitment."
Junior forward Jarrod Jones (Michigan City, Ind./Michigan City) posted his 11th double-double of the season in the loss. Jones scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds before fouling out in the final minute. He connected on 9-of-15 from the field and was a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
"I thought our guys fought hard and played with a lot of passion," Taylor said. "Our defense looked like 'second-night' defense, playing back-to-back late games. We scored well for awhile tonight but we just ran out of gas in terms of our consistency on the offensive end."
Ball State and Kent State came out of the gate strong offensively as the game was tied 21-21 with just over eight minutes gone in the half. Jones scored eight early points while freshman guard Jesse Berry (Lafayette, Ind./Jefferson) scored seven points in the opening eight minutes.
The Cardinals took a 30-29 lead at the 9:14 mark of the first half as sophomore guard Jauwan Scaife (Muncie, Ind./Muncie Central) nailed a three-pointer. Kent State responded with a 17-6 run to take a 46-36 lead with 2:48 left in the half. Justin Greene scored five points in the run while Carlton Guyton added seven points in the spurt, including a three-pointer that gave KSU the lead back.
Ball State made a late push to close out the half as it scored five straight to head into the locker room trailing 48-43. Junior guard Randy Davis (Plymouth, Ind./Plymouth) nailed a deep three-pointer as the shot clock was expiring and Berry hit two free throws to make it a five-point contest at the break.
Ball State connected on 56.0 percent (14-of-25) from the field in the first half and 40 percent (4-of-10) from long range. The Cardinals also hit 73.3 percent (11-of-15) from the free throw line and only committed five turnovers. Berry led the Cardinals with 11 points on the strength of 6-of-6 shooting from the line while Jones added 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Kent State was equally strong offensively as it connected on 60 percent (21-of-35) from the field and 50 percent (3-of-6) from three-point land. The Golden Flashes controlled play on the glass as they held an 18-9 advantage, including nine offensive rebounds. Greene led all first half scorers with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting while Guyton added nine points and Justin Manns chipped in eight.
Kent State maintained a multiple-possession lead through the first seven minutes of the second half as it held a 59-53 lead. The Cardinals responded with a 6-1 run to narrow the gap to on at 60-59 as Davis recorded a steal at midcourt and drove down the lane for a fast break basket.
Ball State trailed 62-61 with 7:20 left after Jones hit two free throws. The Cardinals forced Kent State into a turnover on the ensuing possession but Jones' potential go ahead shot was just off the mark allowing KSU to maintain the lead.
Kent State, the MAC regular season champion, responded with a 16-4 run over the next 6:50 of the contest to extend the lead to 78-65. Rodriquez Sherman scored eight points in the run while Greene added six points as the Golden Flashes were able to pull away in the closing three minutes.
Ball State finished the game shooting 43.4 percent (23-of-53) from the field and 25.0 percent (5-of-20) from three-point land. The Cardinals only committed 10 turnovers in the loss but were out-rebounded by a 40-22 margin.
Berry finished with 14 points in his second straight start while also handing out a career-high five assists. He connected on just 3-of-13 from the field but hit 7-of-8 from the free throw line. He averaged 17.0 points in the two MAC Tournament games while playing 35.5 minutes a game. Davis added 11 points as he was 4-of-8 from the field, including three three-pointers.
Kent State ended the night shooting 55.4 percent (31-of-56) from the field and 40 percent (4-of-10) from long range. Greene posted a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds while Michael Porrini posted 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Sherman chipped in 13 points and Guyton added 12 points off the bench.