BY JACK KIZER | Ball State Sports Link
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After an impressive performance Thursday to outlast Western Michigan 66-63 without leading scorer Tayler Persons, Ball State’s number is now two — two wins from the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
If the Cardinals hope to advance to Saturday’s championship game, it will take Ball State’s best performance of the year to knock off No. 1 seed Akron today at 5:30 p.m.
Akron reached the semifinals with a 79-62 victory Thursday over No. 8 seed Eastern Michigan. The Zips won the regular season championship and feature MAC Player of the Year Isaiah Johnson at center. He leads the Zips with 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
BSU managed to defeat Western Michigan despite playing the final 30 minutes without All-MAC point guard Tayler Persons, who left with an injury.
Persons was taken to a Cleveland hospital under concussion protocol. It’s unclear of his availability for today’s game, but Ball State’s official game notes list him as a probable starter.
Considering a tweet from his hospital bed yesterday, his return looks questionable.
Senior forward Franko House scored 14 points in the quarterfinal victory and made the 127th start of his career, a new school record. The two-time All-MAC performer broke a tie with Mike Spicer (1988-92) for the top spot on the list.
Following Thursday’s win, Kiapway said his team knows they can win against the league’s best team.
“I feel like we always have confidence, ever since conference play started,” Kiapway said. “The first game was a battle and you know, things didn’t go our way at the end. I feel that we are going to come out tomorrow and battle just like we did today, and have each other’s back.”
In the only meeting this year, Johnson capped a wild finish with a game-winning jumper with 0.2 seconds to lift the Zips to their then-29th consecutive victory at James A. Rhodes Arena. Akron won 65-63 in a matchup of the top teams from each of the Mid-American Conference’s divisions.
After that game, Ball State’s James Whitford said his team was certainly capable of winning.
“It’s another game that shows we can play with just about anyone,” Whitford said. “It’s being able to play this way consistently that has been our challenge. But we’re certainly more than capable of winning a game like this, and we’re really disappointed that we weren’t able to pull this one out.”
All-Time in the MAC Tournament
- Ball State owns the most MAC Tournament championships in league history with seven. Ohio has six tournament titles, and Kent State has five.
- The Cardinals are looking for their first league tournament crown since 2000, which is also the last time BSU reached the championship game.
- Ball State is returning to Cleveland after a three-year absence, having lost first-round games on campus sites in each of the past three seasons.
- BSU last advanced past the quarterfinal round in 2011 when the Cardinals reached the semifinals before falling to Kent State.
- Ball State has advanced to the semifinals 20 times in its 35 tournament appearances