During their Mid-American Conference debuts, the final 10 minutes sealed both Ball State and Ohio's fates.
The Cardinals (10-4) flourished, running away from a favored Toledo team to pick up an 87-69 win, while the Bobcats (9-4) wilted en route to an 80-69 loss to Northern Illinois.
The two teams will meet on Saturday in Athens and efficient play down the stretch will make all the difference, because there is not much to separate Ohio and Ball State on paper.
Ohio holds advantages in points per game (79-71), field goal percentage (47-43), and free throw percentage (78-69) while Ball State tops Ohio in 3-point shooting percentage (36.2-35.7), rebounding (38-36), and assists per contest (14.3-13.5). Ohio and Ball State have each struggled with turnovers, giving away the ball 13 and 12 times per game, respectively.
Most categories boast fairly close variances, except where it matters the most: points per game. Ohio's average ranks it second in the MAC while Ball State sits ahead of only Miami for 11th place. The Bobcats have shown the potential to put up big numbers, scoring at least 80 on seven occasions.
Ohio's depth has boosted offensive productivity with five Bobcats averaging double-digit point totals. The ‘Cats usually run anywhere from 8-11 players deep, allowing them to keep starters fresh as the game progresses.
As for the Cardinals, it's tough to tell whether their 87-point outburst against Toledo was a sign of good things to come or an anomaly. Barring a 90-point performance against NAIA Indiana-Kokomo, it was their season high.
The Cardinals have cracked the 80-point threshold only thrice and put up fewer than 70 seven times.
However, if its performance against Toledo provides a glimpse of what Ball State is capable of from beyond the arc, Ohio could have its hands full. The Cardinals shot 43 percent from downtown against Toledo and the ‘Cats allow their opponents to shoot just under 40 percent from beyond the arc.
For Ohio, closing out along the perimeter and forcing a largely undersized Ball State team to play near the hoop will be key. Antonio Campbell must also stay out of foul trouble. The junior, who averages 14 points and 9 rebounds per game, was limited to 13 minutes against Ball State.
For Ball State, keep the hot hand going during its second consecutive formidable conference test.
Tip-off is slated for 2:00 p.m.