DEKALB, Ill. -- Franko House led all scorers with a career-high 19 points Saturday, but a long field goal drought early in the second half proved costly for the Ball State men’s basketball team in a 70-56 loss at Northern Illinois.
House added nine rebounds in the regular season finale, while Majok Majok finished with 12 points and eight boards for the Cardinals. Darrell Bowie led Northern Illinois with 17 points, but it was the Huskies’ defense, especially over the first part of the second half, that was the difference in the game.
“I want to give credit to Northern Illinois,” Ball State head coach James Whitford said. “To me, they’re clearly the most improved team in the conference and one of the most improved teams in the country from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. They’re as together and they play as hard as anyone in the conference.”
The loss means Ball State (5-24, 2-16 MAC) will be the No. 12 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. The Cardinals will play a first-round road game Monday night at No. 5 seed Ohio for the right to move on to Cleveland.
Saturday, Northern Illinois (14-16, 8-10 MAC) held Ball State without a field goal for a span of nearly 12 minutes as they turned a one-point halftime advantage into a double-digit lead. Ball State hit five free throws during that stretch, but the Huskies’ full-court pressure took the Cardinals out of their rhythm by keeping them from getting the ball up the floor quickly.
“They tightened their defense up in the second half, and we had a tough time scoring,” Whitford said. “When we had a tough time, I thought there were four or five possessions where we started to hang our head and let the frustration affect us. We defended well for a lot of the game, but during that stretch we couldn’t score and I thought we lost our toughness on the defensive end.”
A 3-point play by Mark Alstork ended the drought, and Majok scored on the next possession to cut the Northern Illinois lead to 50-41 with 6:12 left. But the Huskies responded with the next seven points and led by no fewer than 13 the rest of the way.
Ball State turned the ball over 19 times in the game, leading directly to 15 points for Northern Illinois, while the Cardinals scored only four points off 11 Huskie turnovers.
Ball State led by as many as seven points in the first half, but Northern Illinois used a 9-2 run to tie things up at 20-20. The teams went back and forth for the rest of the first half, and the Huskies took a 28-27 lead into the break before opening it up in the second half.
Aaron Armstead finished with 11 points to give Northern Illinois two players in double figures, while Aaric Armstead and J.J. Cravatta added nine each.Ball State’s Zavier Turner moved into fourth place on the Cardinals’ all-time freshman scoring list with a 3-pointer to open the game. He now has 348 points on the season. Teammate Chris Bond finished with five points as his streak of 10 straight double-figure games was snapped.