The Cardinals end-of-game magic, however, ran out at Levien Gymnasium as Columbia came back from seven points down on three occasions in the second half to advance to the semifinals with a 69-67 win. Ball State came from behind for overtime wins in the tournament’s first two rounds.
“It was kind of a reverse of what we’ve been all year,” Ball State coach James Whitford said. “When we get into the final four minutes of a game, we’ve been outstanding all year. I thought we played the game the right way down the stretch. You just live with the consequences when that happens, and tonight it didn’t go our way.”
Trey Moses scored a . . .
House and Francis Kiapway were saddled with foul trouble throughout the game, and House fouled out in the closing minutes. The fouls resulted in Columbia (23-10) getting to the line 27 times and making 20. Ball State was 7 for 14 at the stripe.
Ball State held Columbia’s leading scorer Maodo Lo in check in the first half, allowing him only two points. But Lo exploded for 14 points in the second half and keyed a rally for the Lions with four 3-pointers after the break.
Ball State led 60-53 after a House lay-in with 6:01 to play, but Columbia rallied with six straight points and it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way.
A Sean Sellers three put the Cardinals ahead 65-62 with 3:48 left, but Ball State managed only one more basket. That bucket, from Moses, gave BSU at 67-65 advantage with 1:42 to go.
The Cardinals had three possessions opportunities in the closing minutes but they resulted in a missed front end of a one-and-one, a blocked transition lay-up and a missed open 3-pointer.
Columbia, in turn, scored the final four points at the foul line, where it spent much of the night. Two free throws from Alex Rosenberg tied the game with 1:26 to play, and two more from Luke Petrasek put the Lions ahead with 48 seconds to go.
The teams traded empty possessions, and then the Cardinals got one last opportunity. Sellers was fouled on a drive to the basket, but he saw his first free throw go halfway down and pop out. He missed the second intentionally, but Columbia came away with the rebound.
It was a balanced night offensively for the Cardinals. All eight players who saw action scored at least four points. Moses reached double figures for the third straight game this postseason. The freshman center came on down the stretch and is part of a big crew of returning players for next season.
“Trey is so impressive,” Whitford said. “He has really emerged as a voice. He kind of came in as a shy kid. Today he was demanding the ball in the low post. For him to come that far as a freshman is a great sign. He’s extraordinarily high in what we refer to as competitive character.”
The Cardinals’ 21 wins were the most since 2001-02 and the seventh-most ever for a Ball State team. They shared a Mid-American Conference West Division championship and played in the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Whitford said. “For us to win a division championship was fantastic. What makes it exciting is we had one of our best seasons in a long time and there is so much to look forward to for young guys coming back.”
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics)