MUNCIE - Ball State earned its first Mid-American Conference men's basketball victory of the sason in impressive fashion Thursday, as it held off a hot Buffalo team 71-68 in front of 3,072 fans at Worthen Arena.
Cardinal senior guard Jesse Berry came off the bench to score 21 points to help his team snap a four-game losing skid.
The Bulls (9-6, 3-2 MAC) were picked to finish second in the MAC East Division and entered the week tied atop the standings.
Ball State senior wing Chris Bond logged his fifth career double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds to go along with four steals, while freshman forward Franko House finished with a career-high 12 points and senior post Majok Majok also added 12.
“I am really happy for our guys,” Ball State coach James Whitford said. “College basketball is a grind. Our guys have worked really hard all season, and it's hard psychologically when you keep coming up on the wrong end of the stick. I was pleased for us to get a big win and let the guys feel good.
"We all know Buffalo is a really good team in our conference, and we are showing we can compete with good teams when we do things well. It was a really rewarding win for us.”
Javon McCrea led Buffalo with 28 points, including 18 in the first half, and Joshua Freelove scored 15. But Ball State (4-12, 1-4) was able to keep the rest of the Bulls' lineup in check.
In a game that featured 15 ties and 10 lead changes, House put Ball State ahead for good at 69-67 on a jumper with 45 seconds to play. McCrea cut the deficit to one by making one of two free throws on the other end, but the Bulls were then forced to foul. Berry hit both of his foul shots to extend the lead to 71-68, and the Cardinals held the Bulls off on their final two looks.
“We needed Franko to play well, and he did,” Whitford said. “They were using his man to crowd Majok a lot early, and he felt a little uncomfortable at first because he was so open. He was able to move around and get angles to the rim and drive it, and he finished. And obviously Jesse's play was terrific and a big difference in the game.”
Berry earned 10 free throw attempts on the night – including two trips when he was fouled shooting 3-pointers – and connected on all 10 of them. He also shot 3-for-6 from beyond the arc on the way to his highest point total since the season opener at Indiana State.
Ball State had struggled with turnovers since the start of conference play but limited itself to 14 giveaways, five shy of its average in league games. The Cardinals connected on 49.1 percent from the floor to Buffalo's 44.8 percent and won the rebounding battle (35-32) for the eighth straight game.
It was a tight contest throughout. Buffalo's largest lead came by seven points during the first half, while Ball State's largest margin was the three points on the final scoreboard. Buffalo led by four with 3:30 to play, but back-to-back baskets from Majok evened the score, and it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way.
Ball State will host Western Michigan Saturday at 2 p.m.