MUNICE, In. — The race in the Mid-American Conference promises to be an exciting one yet again in 2017-18, and every team entered the 2018 calendar year with a record of 6-7 or better..
On Tuesday, the conference play portion of the schedule opened up for all 12 teams across the league, and there was a marquee match-up between a pair of West Division teams in Munice. The Ball State Cardinals put their eight game winning streak on the line against the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
Ball State came into the day having won the last four meetings between the two programs, but the Eagles came to play on Tuesday night. The visitors led by as many as nine points in the first half, and took a 36-31 lead into the break.
But, it was all for not, as the Cardinals outscored the Eagles in the second half by 15 points. Ball State held down their home court, and extended their winning streak to nine games with a 72-62 win over Eastern Michigan to open up MAC play.
The Cardinals had three players score in double-figures, led by forwards Kyle Mallers and Tahjai Teague. Mallers scored a team-high 17 points to go along with seven rebounds, while Teague recorded 12 points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.
Center Trey Moses recorded his second straight double-double on Tuesday night, recording 13 points and 10 rebounds. It was his third double-double performance over his last four games.
Elijah Minnie led all scorers on the night, pouring in 25 points to go along with four rebounds, four steals, and three blocks to pace the attack for Eastern Michigan. Junior forward James Thompson IV added eight points and eight rebounds before picking up his fifth foul.
Guard Paul Jackson added 14 points and four assists in the loss for the Eagles.
With 4:33 to play in the first half, Minnie got a second-chance bucket to drop to give the Eagles a 33-24 lead, their largest lead of the night. The Cardinals answered with seven quick points, headlined by a three pointer from Jontrell Walker, to cut the deficit back down to two with over two minutes left in the half.
Eastern Michigan pushed the lead back to five at the break, at 36-31.
Tayler Persons opened the second half with a jumper for the Cardinals within the first 30 seconds to get Ball State on the comeback trail. Jackson responded with a triple for the Eagles just under a minute later, and the second half was in full swing.
Over the first 10 minutes of the half, the teams would trade baskets as Eastern Michigan tried to hold onto its lead. But, with 9:31 to play in the game, Jeremie Tyler got a layup to fall to give the Cardinals a 48-47 lead. It was their first lead since it was 9-7 in favour of the home side early in the first half.
Tyler would later hit one of two free throws, but Jackson responded with a pair of his own to make it 49-all with under nine to play. Ball State responded with a 7-0 run to take a 56-59 lead, and they wouldn’t trail the rest of the way.
Ball State used some timely free throw shooting in the closing minutes to maintain their lead, and thanks to some misses from the Eagles on the other end, the Cardinals were able to stretch their lead to double digits before the final buzzer. Ball State extended their winning streak to nine games with a 72-62 win over Eastern Michigan.
The win also marks the fifth straight time that the Cardinals have knocked off the Eagles.
After starting the season with four losses in their first five games, Ball State (10-4, 1-0) has now won nine straight contests. They will look to extend their streak to 10 games on Saturday afternoon when they host the Buffalo Bulls.
The loss was the third in four games for Eastern Michigan (9-5, 0-1), who were unable to build off a 19-point win over Rochester College in their last outing. The Eagles will look to get back on the right track when they host the Bowling Green Falcons on Saturday afternoon in their MAC home opener.
– T. Bennett