YPSILANTI, Mich. -- Majok Majok finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday night, but the Ball State men’s basketball team opened the final week of the regular season with a 72-58 loss to Eastern Michigan at the Convocation Center.
Darell Combs and Mike Talley led a balanced scoring attack for Eastern Michigan with 12 points each to help the Eagles (18-12, 10-7 Mid-American Conference) to a sweep of the season series with the Cardinals (5-23, 2-15 MAC).
Ball State had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in its past two games -- a win over Central Michigan and an overtime loss to Western Michigan. Tuesday, the Cardinals struggled to take care of the ball as many teams do against Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone. Ball State turned it over 18 times, including 11 in the first half, compared to five assists.
“I was disappointed with our focus in the first eight minutes of the game,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “I actually thought our half-court offense and half-court defense was better in this game than the last game with Eastern Michigan; it was just hard to see it because of our turnovers.”
During a key stretch early in the second half, the Eagles stole the ball on three straight possessions and turned all three of them into transition scores. The last one, a dunk from Karrington Ward, gave Eastern Michigan a 37-28 lead in what had been a five-point game less than a minute and a half earlier.
For the night, the Eagles scored 20 points off Ball State miscues and outscored the Cardinals in fastbreak points by a 16-4 margin.
“There’s no question that was the difference in the game,” Whitford said.
Despite the turnovers, the Cardinals were able to find better looks inside the arc than they did in the first meeting between the teams -- a 73-62 EMU win Feb. 12. On that night in Muncie, Ball State stayed in the game by making 10 3-pointers. Tuesday, the Cardinals forced the issue inside but could not connect on enough looks.
Majok was able to get off 19 shot attempts, and the Ball State center also earned 10 free throws. Chris Bond joined him in double figures with 11 points, all in the first half, by slashing to the basket. But the Cardinals struggled to a 36.4 percent shooting night as a team.
“I felt like our execution against the zone was significantly better this game than the last game,” Whitford said. “We got the ball to the rim much more in this game. If we would have shot the ball better, our offense was fine. We needed to shrink the turnovers, make a couple more shots and eliminate their transition buckets.”
Majok and Bond kept Ball State in the game in the first half, combining for 23 of the team’s 25 points. The Cardinals trailed by six at the break and had the deficit down to 33-28 a minute into the second half before Eastern Michigan’s spurt made it an 11-point game.
A jumper from Majok cut the lead back to nine, but Eastern Michigan answered with a Raven Lee 3-pointer at the 15:48 mark, and the Eagles led by double figures the rest of the way.
Ball State will close out the regular season Saturday at Northern Illinois with a 3:30 p.m. CT (4:30 p.m. ET) tipoff in DeKalb, Ill. The MAC Tournament then begins Monday with the Cardinals playing a first-round road game against an opponent still to be determined.