BY CONNOR ONION | Radio Voice of Ball State Basketball on WCRD 91.3 FM
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After three straight games at home, Ball State hits the road Tuesday to visit Mid-American Conference overall leader Akron. It is the only meeting this regular season between the Cardinals and the MAC East Division’s Zips.
Tuesday’s game is a matchup of league leaders. Akron leads the East Division by three games, while Ball State shares the West Division lead with Northern Illinois. The Zips won the East last season, while the Cardinals shared the West title.
House A Bright Spot
The Cardinals suffered their most lopsided defeat in nearly four years Friday night, falling to Buffalo 96-69.
It’s the second-largest loss in the James Whitford era and the worst since Ball State lost to Marquette 91-53 in 2013.
Ball State started the game on a 7-0 run, but the lead was short lived. Buffalo led by six at half time and opened the gap in the second half outscoring the Cardinals 52-31.
“Normally they don’t make shots to the level they did tonight,” Whitford said. “I don’t think that had anything to do with the loss, it only had to do with the margin.”
The Bulls came into the night shooting 31 percent from three, the second-worst mark in the conference. Last Friday, they knocked down 11-of-24 triples, good for 45 percent.
Two weeks earlier, Ball State went on the road and dispatched Buffalo 92-77.
“They probably had their pride hurt in that first game,” Whitford said. “Tonight is as tough and as physical I’ve seen them play.”
The margin of defeat and the turnovers (18) deflated the Cardinals on a night where they had hopes of building off of a 6-3 MAC start and staying in first place in the West.
Not all was lost.
At night’s end, a 27-point loss counts the same as a one-point loss. Ball State is still tied with Ohio and Northern Illinois for the second best record in the conference.
Franko House compiled a new career high with 24 points, 19 of them in the first half.
Since an uncharacteristically poor day at Bowling Green (3 points, 1 rebound) in mid-January, the senior power forward has tormented opponents for 20 points and eight rebounds per game over the last four.
In order to get back on track Tuesday, Ball State needs more from its supporting cast.
Akron At Home
Akron’s home at John A. Rhodes Arena can easily be confused for a high school gym.
At a cozy capacity of 5,500 fans, there’s not a ton of room for opponents to hide.
Despite the intimate setting, the history within “The JAR” is observable.
Before the sweat suit days, current West Virginia Head Coach Bob Huggins roamed the Akron sidelines. A mural of Huggins is cemented on a wall beyond one of the baselines, commemorating Akron’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1986.
Speaking of NCAA Tournaments, the Zips have hung three banners in the past eight years, last competing in the Big Dance in 2013.
The sustained success started inside Akron’s vaunted gym. Since the start of MAC play in 2011 the Zips are 46-7 in home games.
This year has been no different.
With an 11-0 mark, Akron has won handedly on most occasions, beating visitors by an average margin of 17 points per game this season.
The Zips current winning streak in home games has reached 28 consecutive contests.
Thanks to Kansas’ loss to Iowa State Saturday, Akron now owns the second-longest home win streak in the country behind Oregon (40).
Ball State will try to become the first team to win at Akron since Miami (OH) knocked off the Zips in overtime in February of 2015. The Cardinals have lost eight straight inside the JAR dating back to 2001 and are 5-12 all-time.
For Pete’s Sake
Tuesday night’s game transcends winning streaks and jockeying for positioning in the MAC standings.
For the fourth straight year, Akron will host a “Purple Out” event in honor of the late Dan Peters who died in October of 2014.
Peters was the Director of Basketball Operations for Akron from 2009-14 and is the father of current Ball State Assistant Coach Danny Peters.
The elder Peters passed away due to a battle with pancreatic cancer.
The American Cancer Society estimates over 50,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017. A consistent treatment for a cure is still being researched.
In an effort to raise awareness for the disease, the Zips will wear purple jerseys with “Peters” on the back and hand out purple t-shirts.
“I don’t think we will ever fully recover from losing Coach Peters,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “This game will never go away as long as I am Akron’s coach.”