MUNCIE, Ind. -- It was yet another close call Wednesday night for the Ball State men’s basketball team against another Mid-American Conference championship contender.
The Cardinals led for the vast majority of the game against Western Michigan before the Broncos rallied late to send it to overtime, where they prevailed 88-81.
The win, coupled with a loss by Toledo, put Western Michigan (19-8, 12-3 MAC) into first place alone in the MAC with three games remaining. For Ball State, which gave Toledo all it wanted on the road three nights ago, Wednesday’s loss was its third overtime defeat in the past eight games.
“I’m sick for our guys,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “I told them that we’ve just played the two best teams in the conference. One of those teams in going to get the conference championship, and it doesn’t feel like the gap is what the record shows. As a matter of fact, it isn’t even close to what the record shows. I thought for 40 minutes we played a good game and were in position to win.”
Mading Thok came off the bench to spark Ball State for the second straight game, scoring 14 points and pulling down five boards. He has scored 26 points over the past two games against the top two teams in the league standings.
The 6-foot-11 Thok scored 12 of his points in the first half and was able to stretch the Western Michigan defense by stepping out and knocking down 15-foot jumpers. The Cardinals shot 51.6 percent on one end of the floor in the opening half and took Western Michigan out of its offensive rhythm on the other to build a 39-30 lead at the break.
“I thought we followed the game plan very well in the first half on both offense and defense,” Whitford said. “We made a lot of good reads, and that’s what allowed us to build the lead.”
The Broncos changed up their attack in the second half, throwing the ball into center Shayne Whittington and running isolation plays with David Brown and Connar Tava. That trio combined to score 76 of Western Michigan’s 88 points on the night, led by Whittington with 28.
A 19-5 run turned what was once a 12-point Ball State lead into a 49-47 advantage for Western Michigan. The Cardinals regrouped, took the lead back and built it to 68-60 with 4:55 to play. But the Broncos went on another run, this time 14-5, to take a 74-73 lead on a Tava lay-in with 59 seconds left in regulation.
Bond answered to put Ball State back on top but was then whistled for a foul on the other end, sending Tava to the line for two shots. He made one to tie the game with 8 seconds left, and Ball State was not able to get a shot off on its final possession.
Majok Majok scored the first basket of overtime for Ball State, but Western Michigan responded with the next eight to take control. The Cardinals were forced to foul late and the Broncos finished off the game at the free throw line for their first win in their past six trips to Muncie.
Majok spent much of the night in foul trouble and played only 25 minutes of a 45-minute game. He finished with nine points and nine rebounds.
“We’ve gotten way better,” Whitford said. “You can’t see it by looking at our win-loss record, but you can certainly see it by looking at the flow of the games and the scores. We’re hanging in there, we’re fighting and we’re playing better. I hope for our guys’ sake that we can pull a few of these out because we’re playing more than well enough to win.”
The Cardinals will play their final home game of the season Saturday at 2 p.m. against Central Michigan. It will be Senior Day for Ball State, which will recognize Berry, Bond, Majok, Tyler Koch and Kindon Crowder before the game.