NORMAL, Ill. — Ball State saw its road game against Illinois State spiral out of control in the second half. The Cardinals (4-6) lost 85-64, marking their third defeat in four games.
What was a five-point deficit early in the second half turned into, at one point, a 30-point deficit as Illinois State (7-5) dominated down the stretch to win for the fifth time in six games.
Here are three takeaways from the Ball State's loss:
Illinois State dominates in the second half
Trailing by as many as 13 points in the first half, Ball State pulled within five points early in the second half following a Payton Sparks and-one.
From there, Illinois State went on a 24-3 run, dunking after a pair of fastbreak steals and going up 26 (66-40) with 10:25 left. That lead grew to as many as 30. The second half advantage was built thanks to the Redbirds' leading scorer Antonio Reeves (21.1 points per game) who, after scoring just five points in the first half, scored 10 points in the first 8:11 of the second half and Josiah Strong, who outscored Ball State 11-4 by himself over a 3:07 span.
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Illinois State, at one point, was outscoring Ball State 34-13 in the second half.
Strong (6 of 7 from 3) led the 10 Illinois State scorers with 23 points while Reeves (6 of 10 FG) added 17 and Sy Chatman (4 of 8 FG) had 10. The Redbirds shot 52.9% (18 of 34) from the field and 46.7% (7 of 15) from 3 in the second half.
Ball State was led by Tyler Cochran, who had 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Sparks added eight, Mickey Pearson had seven and Luke Bumbalough (2 of 12 FG), Demarius Jacobs and Luke Brown — who played the final 3:46 in his Ball State debut — each finished with six. The Cardinals finished the day shooting 39.3% (22 of 56) from the field and 33.3% (7 of 21) from 3.
Illinois State dominates inside
The Redbirds asserted their dominance in the paint from the get-go, drawing nine first half fouls and getting into the bonus nine minutes into the game.
It didn't matter who was on defense, the Redbirds used their height advantage to force themselves into the paint. Blake Huggins replaced Sparks at center for a few minutes in the first half and Illinois State continued to hammer the ball inside.
In the first half, Illinois State outscored Ball State 14-8 in the points in the paint. The Redbirds went 8 of 12 from the free throw line while Ball State was 5 of 7.
After asserting itself inside, Illinois State was able to spread its offense as Josiah Strong drilled three 3-pointers in front of Ball State's bench to put Illinois State up by 11 with 0:28 to go in the first half.
Defensively, Illinois State didn't allow Ball State to get any easy points inside. The Redbirds finished with six blocks, five of which came in the second half. Illinois State won the rebounding battle (39-34), had more points in the paint (34-24), second chance (12-4) and fast break points (19-5).
Ball State still trying to find the right rotation
After an 85-58 victory over IU Kokomo last Sunday, Ball State head coach James Whitford said "we’re still trying to get some answers there as to what the right lineups are for us."
On Saturday, Ball State went with a new starting five with both Demarius Jacobs and Jaylin Sellers in alongside Miryne Thomas, Luke Bumbalough and Payton Sparks. Down 10-2 in the first four minutes, Ball State made a hockey style line change with Basheer Jihad, Kani Acree, Mickey Pearson and Tyler Cochran coming into the game. Blake Huggins also saw action at center in the first half.
Tyler Cochran, who started the previous nine games, came off the bench and was Ball State's best offensive weapon in the first half scoring 10 points. He started in the second half alongside Jacobs, Bumbalough, Thomas and Sparks.
Bumbalough (13.1 points per game), who had his worst shooting day of the season, and Cochran (10.6 ppg) have been the most consistent offensive weapons for Ball State this year. Thomas and Sparks have been up and down while Jalen Windham (9.7 ppg) — who didn't play and wasn't seen on Ball State's bench — has been consistent off the bench. Outside of that, different players — Jaylin Sellers, Mickey Pearson, Basheer Jihad and Kani Acree — have had moments, but none have separated themselves from the rest.
Saturday came with a new face for the Cardinals, as well. Former Indiana All-Star Luke Brown made his Ball State debut, going 2-for-2 from 3 in just under four minutes of action.
This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Ball State basketball: 3 takeaways from 85-64 loss at Illinois State