YPSILANTI, Mich. — The Ball State men’s basketball team is starting to make a habit out of winning in the final second.
One week after downing Norfolk State on Majok Majok‘s buzzer beating dunk, the Cardinals opened Mid-American Conference play Wednesday by defeating Eastern Michigan, 60-58, on a pair of Chris Bond free throws with 0.6 seconds left.
Bond finished a perfect 8-for-8 from the floor and scored 18 points to match teammate Jauwan Scaife for game-high honors. Bond couldn’t miss even when he tried Wednesday. The junior forward attempted to miss his second free throw in the final second but banked it in instead.
Tyler Koch batted away Eastern Michigan’s length-of-the-floor inbounds pass on the final play to secure the road win at the Convocation Center.
The Cardinals improved to 7-6 (1-0 MAC) with the win and will return home to host Kent State for a 2 p.m. tipoff Saturday at Worthen Arena. Eastern Michigan dropped to 7-8 (0-1 MAC).
Junior guard Jesse Berry dished out a career-high six assists. He found himself with the ball in his hands on the final possession, just like last week when he hit Majok for the game-winner.
Berry took the ball with eight seconds left and the game tied at 58-58 after a pair of free throws by Eastern Michigan’s Jalen Ross knotted the game for the first time since midway through the first half. Berry worked the ball up the floor and threaded a pass to Bond on the left baseline. Bond went hard to the basket, drawing a foul to set up the game-winning free throws.
“Jesse had his head up the whole time, he saw all his options, and Chris happened to be the best option,” Ball State head coach Billy Taylor said. “Chris did a great job finishing tonight. On that play, he went strong to the basket and forced the official to make the call.”
Ball State overcame 19 turnovers against Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone defense, but the Cardinals also recorded 18 assists on their 24 made field goals. Ball State shot 58.5 percent for the game.
The Cardinals found success working the ball inside against the zone. Ball State held a 34-20 advantage in the paint, often finding Bond on the baseline or working the ball into the lane to Majok or Zach Fields, who combined for 14 points.
“The sharing of the basketball was great,” Taylor said. “The turnovers were too high, but I thought a lot of our turnovers came on plays where we were trying to be unselfish but just didn’t execute the pass.”
Ball State also won the rebounding battle 29-16, led by Matt Kamieniecki, who returned to the lineup after missing two games with injury and grabbed seven boards in just 15 minutes.
On the perimeter, Scaife shot 4-for-8 from the 3-point line as he continued his hot hand. Scaife is now 11-for-19 from beyond the arc with 57 points over the past three games.
Ball State shot 63.6 percent in the first half and led 33-28 at the break. The Cardinals led by as many as eight on multiple occasions in the second half, including 56-48 with 4:26 to play. But they went the rest of the way without a field goal as Eastern Michigan clawed back to tie the score late.
Derek Thompson led the Eagles with 16 points, while J.R. Sims added 12. The Eagles shot 51.2 percent from the floor for the game.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of resiliency and a lot of character,” Taylor said. “It was tough for us to score down the stretch with their trapping defense, but we found a way to win.”