The CMU men’s basketball team had a lot to play for on Saturday. With coach Ernie Zeigler encouraging the Chippewas to play like they had nothing to lose, they did — and took a 71-65 win against Ball State at Rose Arena.
“We had lost six in a row, and it doesn’t get much worse than that,” said junior guard Jordan Bitzer. “We came out and tried to play desperate. We came out early and tried to establish that this was our home court.”
CMU lost its first two Mid-American Conference games and had not won in more than one month, but Bitzer’s team-high 21 points after taking a knee to chest sparked the team.
“He’s just an absolute warrior and we definitely need him to be out there and be that glue for us that he is,” said CMU coach Ernie Zeigler.
Bitzer took a charge on a play at the end of the first half, and immediately walked off the court the locker room. Bitzer said he had trouble breathing after his chest tightened up during halftime.
“It didn’t really affect my shot at all — I was still aggressive,” he said. “I just had to fight through. But I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow morning.”
Junior Brandon Ford, who spends the majority of the end of games on the bench, got his chance when senior forward Marcus Van fouled out with one minutes, 20 seconds remaining.
Ford’s two field goals in that span — a layup and a dunk — helped Central pull away from the pesky Cardinals, which came within two, 65-63, with 1:17 left. Ford’s layup on a fast break gave the Chippewas a four-point lead soon after, and he added a closing statement with a dunk with 10 seconds left.
“He had the baskets, but he also had two huge blockouts,” Zeigler said. “They got a couple offensive rebounds and then he came in and got us two huge blockouts.”
CMU’s tenacity resulted in some frustration from the Cardinals early on in the second half. After CMU junior guard Robbie Harman lost the ball after coming off a screen, he and BSU freshman Randy Davis dove after it a scrum resulted. In the midst of the fracas, Davis struck Harman twice with his forearm and was ejected.
“In my opinion, it was just two kids going after it and competing,” Zeigler said. “I didn’t get a chance to see the replay, in terms of what was thrown. It was just two guys scrapping — you had two teams playing hard.”
BSU coach Billy Taylor said he had no comment about the ejection because he had not seen the replay yet, and did not know if it would result in a suspension for Davis.
“They played with great hunger and passion and I thought our guys did too,” Taylor said. “In MAC play, every game is one that is desperate for both teams. We wanted it badly — unfortunately, we weren’t able to get it done.”
Harman finished with 15 points and six assists, while Bitzer added six steals. BSU received 34 points from its bench, as senior guard Laron Frazier led the team with 18 points.
Frazier and BSU’s pressure near the end forced CMU into multiple turnovers, which Zeigler said was a result of a lack of experience.
“It’s part of learning how to finish a game,” he said. “We talked about it, and we’re a team that had three wins coming into this, hadn’t won a game in conference and had lost six in a row … It was good for us to be able to go through it.”
QUOTING CMU COACH ERNIE ZEIGLER: “We made shots. We did a really good job of finishing opportunities. We did a good job of trying to limit them on the offensive glass. They only had one offensive rebound in the first half. We made our free throws. It’s definitely been a thorn in our side especially coming off the Eastern game and shooting 60 percent down there. Down the stretch we did a good job of knocking down our free throws.
“It was actually to our detrimet when Davis was thrown out of the game. When Frazier’s on the floor, that’s their best team. They do a good job of putting pressure on you.
“We tried to go elsewhere and use (Marcus Van) as a decoy. He did a good job passing out of the double team.”
QUOTING BSU COACH BILLY TAYLOR: “I thought our guys struggled defensively. We couldn’t get the stops that we’re used to getting.
“We made a great run. Pressed, force a few turnovers, but when you dig yourself a eight-to-nine point hole, it’s hard to come back from that, especially on the road.
“They said it was a flagrant foul, a flagrant forearm.”
“We weren’t as patient as I would’ve liked to get the ball inside. He got some touches, but we wanted to try to get our secondary looks instead of just trying to jam it in all the time.