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Bulls hold off Cardinals despite last-minute surge

Shannon Evans scores 25 points in win

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When freshman guard Lamonte Bearden hit the first of two free throws with 25 seconds remaining in the game, the men’s basketball team was likely expecting to run out the clock and breeze to an easy victory.

The team was wrong.

Bearden missed his second free throw and Ball State guard Zavier Turner quickly hit a 3-pointer to bring its deficit to four. Sophomore guard Shannon Evans turned the ball over one second later, leading to a quick basket on the other end.

Bearden was quickly fouled, but he was able to hit both of his clutch free throws to make it a two-possession game.

The Bulls (15-6, 6-3 Mid-American Conference) hindered a last-minute surge by Ball State (7-13, 2-7 MAC), defeating the Cardinals 82-78 on Wednesday night at the John E. Worthen Center in Muncie, Indiana. The Bulls are on their first three-game winning streak since a Dec. 7-19 stretch earlier this season. The team is now tied with Akron and Kent State for the most wins in the MAC East.

Head coach Bobby Hurley was pleased about the win, but not the last-minute breakdown.

“We were getting to the point where it could have been a breaking point,” Hurley said. “They made some hustle plays and kept possessions alive. The three-point play is a type of play that can cost you the game.”

Buffalo led by as much as 15 points with less than 18 minutes left in the game, but Ball State cut the deficit to seven after going on a 17-9 run over six minutes.

Evans scored 15 of his game-high 25 points in the first half. He scored 11 of the teams first 16 points within the first six minutes of the game.

Hurley commended Evans’ performance and said he “was really good for us tonight with great offense and solid defense.”

Senior forward Xavier Ford didn’t score many points, but what he did score was crucial for the teams’ late run. With 3:05 left in the game, Ford hit a timely 3-pointer to extend the Buffalo lead to six. He also hit two free throws down the stretch to further a Buffalo lead late into the game.

The Bulls’ biggest problem all night was foul trouble, according to Hurley. The team produced 28 personal fouls and three players fouled out of the game – both of which are season-highs. Junior forward Justin Moss fouled out with 3:45 left in the game. He finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. Junior guards Jarryn Skeete and Rodell Wigginton also fouled out, finishing with six and nine points, respectively.

“It was a hard fought game like most MAC road games are,” Hurley said. “We overcame a lot of adversity with foul issues today to key players. We’re not the deepest team. But we found a way to win and we made enough plays.”

Hurley has maintained an eight-man rotation almost all season. Freshmen Christian Pino, Bobby Frasco and Ikenna Smart average three minutes combined per game.

The Bulls are now in a four-way tie for the conference lead with Akron, Kent State and Bowling Green – all of which possess a 6-3 conference record.

Buffalo has nine games remaining on the regular season schedule, which includes two matchups against Akron and Bowling Green each, and one matchup against Kent State.

Hurley said he’s concentrated on the rest of the regular season, not the postseason.

“It’s too early to start playing that game,” Hurley said. “This league is so good. Even in our own division, we’re fighting to get to the top. There are a number of quality teams and we still have to play a bunch of them.”

The Bulls will travel to Athens, Ohio to take on the Zips on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

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