Franko House scored 22 points in his final home game to lead the Cardinals on Senior Night. Tayler Persons had 14 points and eight assists, while senior Ryan Weber and Trey Moses added 12 points each.
Eugene German led five Northern Illinois players in double figures with 17 points. Marin Maric tallied 16 with 10 boards, while Jaylen Key scored 12 and Austin Pauga 11 off the bench. Levi Bradley chipped in 10 points and nine caroms.
“I’m proud of . . .
The Cardinals finished as part of a four-way tie for the second-best record in the overall league standings. They earned the No. 4 seed and a bye in next week’s MAC Tournament based on tiebreakers, in large part because their 9-1 record against the division put them ahead of Western Michigan.
Ball State wrapped up the regular season at 20-11 (11-7 MAC) and finished tied atop the West Division with the Broncos. It is the first time the Cardinals have won back-to-back division championships since the divisional format was implemented in 1998.
BSU also reached the 20-win mark in consecutive seasons for the first time since the early 1990s. The Cardinals finished the regular season by winning five of their final six games.
“I think we're playing well,” Whitford said. “The biggest difference for me is our defense has progressed a lot over the past couple months. If you compared us in November and December to today, to me we're a much better defensive team.”
Ball State was good offensively, too, Friday. The team shot 52 percent in the opening half to take a 36-32 lead into the break. The shooting cooled slightly in the second half, but the Cardinals stayed in control.
Ball State hit five 3-pointers in the first eight minutes of the second half, the last of which came from Francis Kiapway and gave the Cardinals their largest lead at 56-43.
It was still an 11-point lead in the final minute before turnovers narrowed the game down the stretch. NIU’s Bradley cut the lead to 83-80 on a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left. But the Huskies were forced to foul, and the Cardinals sealed the game with free throws from Persons and House.
House scored 11 of his points in the final three minutes to help the Cardinals hold on.
The Cardinals knocked down 13 3-pointers, reaching double figures in that category for the fifth time in the past seven games. Kiapway and Sellers hit three each.
-- Ball State will play Thursday, March 6 in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The contest will tip off at approximately 2:30 p.m. against the winner of Monday’s first-round game between No. 5 seed Western Michigan and No. 12 Miami.
-- Northern Illinois (No. 9 Seed) will be at Eastern Mmichigan (No. 8 seed) Monday (Time TBA). The winner of that game will meet No. 1 Seed Akron at noon on Thursday in quarterfinal action.