A career-best effort from one of its veterans was not enough for Ball State to withstand a rally by visiting Cleveland State on Wednesday at Worthen Arena, as the Cardinals fell 69-63 in men’s basketball action.
Junior guard Jesse Berry scored a career-high 28 points in the defeat.
“I thought the game down to two areas for us, our inability to get defensive rebounds and our turnovers,” Ball State coach Billy Taylor said in a release. “Especially when we had a lead in the first half, I thought we did a poor job handling the basketball.”
Ball State (2-3) got off to a hot start, but could not overcome struggles on the offensive glass and a long field-goal drought in the second half.
Cleveland State (5-2) guard Bryn Forbes led three-double figure scorers for the Vikings with 18 points, all of which came in the second half. Backcourt mate Charlie Lee added 16 points and forward Devon Long finished with 10.
Berry, whose previous career-high was 25 points, connected on 8-of-16 shots from the floor, including 4-of-10 from 3-point range, and made good on 8-of-11 free throw attempts. He hit his first four shots and scored 10 points in the game’s opening nine minutes.
His hot shooting helped Ball State come out of the gate quickly. The Cardinals made eight of their first 11 shots as a team and led by as many as 12 points early at 18-6.
But Cleveland State clawed its way back by generating takeaways and attacking the boards. The Vikings forced 19 turnovers in the game and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. They outscored Ball State in second-chance points by a 19-6 margin.
Ball State’s lead shrunk as its shooting cooled off, and Cleveland State trimmed the Cardinals’ advantage to 34-30 at halftime.
“Our turnovers led to run-outs for them,” Taylor said. “So when they were struggling to score, we gave them too many free runs at the basket.”
Ball State got off to a strong start again in the second half and held a seven-point lead at 49-42 following a layup from Bo Calhoun with 12:16 to play.
But although the Cardinals continued to pick up a few points at the foul line, Calhoun’s basket was the last Ball State field goal for nearly 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, Cleveland State began to heat up. The Vikings hit seven of their next 12 shots from that point, including three second-chance baskets. They went on a 20-4 run that turned their seven-point deficit into a 62-53 lead.
Ball State managed to get back within four on a 3-pointer from Berry with 11 seconds left in the game, but the Cardinals could get no closer.
Junior forward Chris Bond joined Berry in double figures for Ball State with 12 points to go along with seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
Cleveland State utilized some match-up zone and box-and-one defensive principles. They limited the touches of Ball State’s leading scorer, Majok Majok, holding him to eight points on 3-of-6 shooting. Majok, who entered the game averaging 15.3 points, had a team-high eight rebounds.
“We didn’t consistently do a good job of punching the gaps and getting the ball where we needed to get it against that defense,” Taylor said. “When we look at the film, we’re going to see a lot of opportunities where we just weren’t strong with the basketball and didn’t look to attack.”
Ball State will visit Butler on Saturday at 2 p.m. (Antenna TV, 15.2).