The Cardinals (2-3) entered the game shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor but connected on barely 30 percent (17 of 56) of their shots at Lantz Arena.
Zavier Turner scored a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists, while Jeremie Tyler joined him in double figures with 10 points.
Ball State controlled the first half, leading by as many as 11, and took a 24-18 lead into halftime. But Eastern Illinois (3-5) picked up its offense in the second half, making better than 60 percent of its shots after the break. Chris Olivier led the Panthers with 16 points, including 10 in the second half.
It was a 41-40 game with just more than five minutes to play before Eastern Illinois went on a decisive 10-0 run to take its largest lead of the night at 51-40. Ball State fought back to within five on two occasions in the final minutes but could not get any closer.
Ball State big men were saddled with foul trouble throughout the night. Matt Kamieniecki fouled out with more than five minutes to play in the game. Kamieniecki, Franko House and Bik Gill all had three fouls by halftime.
“We got into such big foul trouble early, and I thought it made our big guys tentative,” Whitford said. “And quite honestly it wasn’t our best night in the front court.”
Eastern Illinois attacked the Cardinals inside for much of the game, winning the battle of points in the paint 28-16. In the second half, the Panthers were also able to get some open looks from the perimeter, making 5 of 8 from beyond the arc after going without a 3-pointer in the first half.
“We’ll learn from tonight,” Whitford said. “They started four seniors and we started three freshmen. There are a lot of growth and learning opportunities for us.”
Ball State now returns home to host its oldest rival Saturday at Worthen Arena. The Cardinals and Indiana State will tip at 2 p.m. in the first game of a doubleheader that also features the Ball State women’s basketball team against Oakland.
(Courtesy of BSU Athletics/MRO Edit)