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Cardinals close the book on a special season with one goal: Win and in

Bye to Cleveland on the line with the Cardinals in Dekalb, but BSU already winners in my book

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If you are new to these parts, you may be unaware that Hustle Belt is not only for the fans, it’s run by them too. Just like you, we all live and die by the programs we support. It’s no different for me. My hat may say “Managing Editor” but my heart will always say Ball State Cardinals. It’s just who I am. Muncie made me. I won’t apologize.

Tonight, the Cardinals are off to Dekalb in their regular season finale against the Northern Illinois Huskies. It’s a big game. Tremendous, I’d say. For a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is it’s quite literally the moment where Ball State basketball can announce that they are a force to be considered next week when the Mid-American Conference tips off in Cleveland. A win tonight means the Cardinals avoid the campus sites of the conference tourney and are straight through to the House Lebron Built. But a win and the bye that it produces puts a cherry on this sundae of a season that could have been anything but sweet.

At the end of last season, most fans thought this was the year for the Cardinals to make some noise. It’s been a long time coming since the likes of Petey Jackson and Ray McCallum led the Cardinals to upsets of Kansas and UCLA and then on the NCAA tournament. Even further back since Bonzi Wells. But the hope was there. It was the fifth season of the James Whitford reign. It had been two consecutive 21-win seasons. There was no real clear-cut front runner for the conference. It seemed like it was good to be a Ball State Cardinal. But then, life (or the ending of it) happened.

The human condition is a funny one and despite all our attempts otherwise, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how one person, much less many, will react to something so tragic, so jarring, so close to home. It would be easy to understand if the entirety of this team had zero passion to compete. I’ve neither been a college athlete nor lost someone close to me unexpectedly, so I can’t say how I would respond. But if they had all lost focus on putting a ball into a hoop as they deal with their own frailty and finality, I don’t think anyone would have had complaint. But that isn’t what happened.

What happened was a team rallied. This group that had high expectations and lofty goals went out and attempted to achieve them anyway. Good for them for doing it. Good for us to get to witness it.

Usually when it comes down to the final few games of the season, there are myriad scenarios and outcomes which dictate who goes where. Inevitably, though, there is one team in the catbird seat, the position that BSU finds itself in tonight. Win and in. Lose and they wait for the Kent State and Western Michigan results, the latter of which has been postponed in the wake of the CMU shooting today.

But let’s hope for a win. Hope for a win for a coach who stepped into a situation in Muncie that I wouldn’t wish on anyone I liked and even some I didn’t. Hope for a win for a fanbase starved for basketball success who reside in a state built upon it. But most importantly, hope for a win for a group of 18-22 year olds who have lived more life in the last 6 months than some life in 20 times that length of time. In the wake of scandal after scandal it would be nice to see the good guys get something positive. Especially those in cardinal and white.

Ball State vs. Northern Illinois
TipOff: 8PM eastern/7PM central
Television: ESPN3