MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. -- In a game that lasted nearly three hours in real time, Central Michigan rallied from behind in the final minute and then outlasted the Ball State men’s basketball team in three overtimes Wednesday, 101-95.
The Chippewas never led in regulation but tied it up in the closing seconds at McGuirk Arena. The teams then traded blows through the first two overtimes before Central Michigan’s Braylon Rayson took over in the third.
Rayson scored 13 of his team’s 16 points in the third extra period, including the first 11 in a row. His layup with 2:58 to play gave Central Michigan the lead for good, and he went on to finish with a game-high 30 points.
It was the second straight near miss for Ball State, which held a late lead Saturday against Bowling Green before falling in the final minute.
“I just saw the guys in the locker room, and there are some tears in there,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “It’s a hard one. It was our game to win. We not only played well enough to win, but we should have won. We seem a little snake-bitten.”
Chris Bond led Ball State (4-20, 1-12 Mid-American Conference) with a double-double, finishing with a career-high 21 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Zavier Turner scored 20 points, Jesse Berry had 19 and Franko House added 12.
Turner fouled out two and a half minutes into the third overtime for a Ball State team that also lost House to fouls in regulation and Majok Majok to injury in the second OT.
Central Michigan (9-16, 2-11 MAC) finished the game without Blake Hibbitts and Austin Stewart, who also fouled out. Hibbitts was the hero in regulation for the Chippewas, nailing three 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds to erase a seven-point lead and send the game to overtime. He had been only 1 for 7 from beyond the arc until that point.
After the third of those 3-pointers, Ball State still had a chance to win it with four seconds left, but Berry’s driving lay-in came off the front of the rim. The Cardinals also had a chance at the end of the second overtime, but Bond couldn’t get a shot from the right side of the lane to fall with six seconds left.
“We put ourselves in that position, and both of those cases I felt were great shots,” Whitford said.
Central Michigan almost won it seconds after Bond’s miss late in the second overtime, but a 3-pointer from Chris Fowler rimmed out to extend the game further.
Fowler also missed a jumper at the end of the first overtime that would have won it for the Chippewas. Ball State held Fowler, the MAC’s leading scorer in conference play, to just 7 for 22 from the floor, but he scored 18 points on the night and handed out 12 assists.
Hibbitts and Austin Stewart each scored 17 points, while John Simons added 13 to give Central Michigan five scorers in double figures.
Ball State opened with a flurry, grabbing a 15-4 lead just over six minutes into the game. The Cardinals shot 47 percent in the first half and took a 38-30 lead into the break.
The Ball State lead was as many as nine in the second half, and the Cardinals staved off every mini run Central Michigan made until the final minute. Then the Cardinals left the door cracked by splitting two trips to the free throw line, and Hibbitts took advantage by catching fire.
Central Michigan had its own struggles at the foul line, making just 19 of 38 in the game, but the Chippewas were able to survive on their home floor.
“We have to learn how to close games,” Whitford said. “The great thing and the hard thing about sports is that confidence is earned, not given. It’s something we have to play through, and we will. Our guys really fought hard, and it was a hard loss.”
Wednesday marked only the fifth triple-overtime game in Ball State’s history and the first since 2000.
The Cardinals will be back in action Sunday at Toledo. That game will tip at 6 p.m. and will be televised by Time Warner Cable Sports Channel.