Francis Kiapway hit three big 3-pointers in the second half --the biggest of which came in a one-point game with 15 seconds to play -- and the Cardinals held on for a 73-68 win at UNF Arena.
Ball State (9-4) extended . . .
"That was an unbelievable game," Ball State coach James Whitford said. "It was a great win. I couldn't be happier for our guys."
The Cardinals made 55 percent of their shots in the first half, including 8 of 11 from 3-point range. They led by as many as 24 points and took a 46-23 lead into the break.
Ball State was working the ball in and out of North Florida's zone defense early and knocking down open looks on the perimeter. Jeremie Tyler connected on a pair of them and scored 12 first-half points off the bench to lead the offensive attack.
Defensively, Ball State held North Florida (4-12) to only 26 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes and limited reigning Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Dallas Moore to five points on 2 of 7 from the floor.
But Moore came to life in the second half, hitting 9 of 15 shots for 24 points after the break to ignite the Ospreys' comeback.
"Dallas Moore is a great player," Whitford said. "I thought he really turned it up in the second half and gave us fits."
North Florida extended its zone defense in the second half, making it more difficult for Ball State to score from the perimeter. The Cardinals were able to effectively get the ball into the middle of the zone and to the basket but had a difficult time converting.
"We got the ball to the rim a lot, and we were unsuccessful finishing over Romelo Banks and Chris Davenport inside," Whitford said. "That's the thing that really gave them a chance to get back in the game."
North Florida cut the lead to single digits midway through the second half and continued to chip away. It was a two-point game when Kiapway hit a three to give the Cardinals a 65-60 edge with 3:45 to play. It was a one-point game in the final minute when he hit another.
Ball State had possession, leading 69-68, and was working the ball around North Florida's zone. Sean Sellers got trapped along the wing as the shot clock wound down, but he was able to break through it and found Kiapway on the opposite wing to push the lead to 72-68 with 15 seconds to go.
"We were just trying to get the best shot we could," Whitford said. "The clock was running out. Sean dribbled through and made a play and kicked it out to Fran for the shot."
After Moore missed a 3-pointer on the other end, the Cardinals hit a free throw and held on.
Tayler Persons was the Cardinals' offense for much of the second half, scoring 13 of his team-high 16 points over the final 20 minutes. Kiapway came on down the stretch with all 10 of his points in the final 10 minutes.
Both teams finished the game at 41 percent shooting. North Florida outscored Ball State 16-8 at the foul line, but the Cardinals made up for it by hitting 13 3-pointers to the Ospreys' eight.
Ball State will open MAC play Tuesday with a 7 p.m. ET tipoff at Kent State. The Cardinals will then return home to host Bowling Green on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 1 p.m. ET
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)