For the first time since 2011, the Ball State Cardinals are playing in Cleveland on a Friday night in March. After downing the Western Michigan Broncos in a back-and-forth affair, the Cardinals must turn around and take on another local 1-seed in the form of the Akron Zips tomorrow evening.
The Broncos came out on fire, jumping out to an early 10-2 lead. They would extend it out to 9 points later in the half, but the tide seemed to swing on a freak accident midway through the half. On a loose ball from Thomas Wilder, two Cardinal players - Jeremie Tyler and Tayler Persons - flew into each other. Tyler walked away with a leg injury (and would eventually return), but Persons would sustain a nasty head injury, and would leave the court bleeding profusely from his crown. He did not return.
However, that break seemed to cool the Broncos off. And it also sparked the Cardinal offense. Ball State would end up hitting seven three pointers as they jumped out to their own 9 point lead late in the half. WMU would eventually close the gap, but the Cardinals would carry a 38-33 lead into the break.
And while both teams had their moments in the first half at being scorching hot on offense, the second half saw each team go frigid cold from the floor. In fact, half of the Cardinals’ 28 points in the half came from the free throw line, and that 7-for-17 three-point shooting mark in the first half turned into a dismal 1-for-9 mark in the 2nd.
For the Broncos, it was Thomas Wilder or bust, it seemed. The junior guard had a nice connection with Brandon Johnson to supplement his own scoring, but he got little help from other teammates, as the Broncos went from 50% shooting from three in the first half to just 25% in the 2nd, and a 36.4% mark from the field altogether.
But the game came down to the final moments. After a Wilder three tied the game with 1:14 left, Franko House drew a foul on Johnson to go to the line. He would hit one of his two free throws, and the Broncos went to try and take the lead. But Wilder would miss two attempts at the lead, and Francis Kiapway hit another free throw to extend the lead further. Another Wilder miss in the final seconds resulted in a Tyler rebound and free throw to ice the game.
For the Cardinals, Trey Moses finished with a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. House added 14 points and 9 boards, and Kiapway led all Cardinals with 16 points, half of those coming from the free throw line.
For the Broncos, Wilder led all scorers with 24 points. He went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc, but only went 4-for-18 inside it. Johnson was the only other Bronco to finish with a double-digit scoring output, finishing with 13 points and 8 rebounds. Tucker Haymond, in possibly his last game as a Bronco, went 3-for-11 (2-for-7 from three) to finish with 8 points and 3 rebounds.
As previously stated, the Cardinals will face off against the Zips on Friday night at 5:30 pm.