Question: What is a struggling team to do when its impact player and floor leader is sidelined due to injury?
Answer: Make the best of the situation by moving forward and giving 110 percent effort.
Unfortunately for the UB Bulls, sometimes that is just not good enough.
After starting all 50 games of his college career, Bulls super sophomore Turner Battle fractured and dislocated his left middle finger in practice on Thursday. As a result, he will miss the remainder of the season after surgery.
The season, however, must go on for the Bulls (4-17, 1-11 Mid-American Conference) who on Saturday took on the Ball State Cardinals (12-11, 7-6 MAC) and dropped a hard fought decision, 80-68, before 2,047 fans at Alumni Arena.
Senior Davis Lawrence stepped into the point guard role and did an admirable job in his first start since last year with five points, three assists and three steals in 29 minutes of action. He committed only two turnovers.
Despite the play of Lawrence, without their floor leader and main ball handler, UB committed 21 turnovers to Ball State's seven. The mistakes translated into 19 Cardinal points.
"We're going to miss (Battle), but he's not coming back this season," said Bulls head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "I can't remember the last time we had that many turnovers. He made a lot of decisions for a lot of people on the floor much easier. He's not coming back so we got to make better decisions."
"Turner was our floor leader and we have players right now that have to step it up too but I think have to step it up as far as being a leader," said sophomore forward Daniel Gilbert.
Trailing by three, 28-25, Buffalo came out in the second half determined to pick up play on the offensive end. They got off to a good start as B.J. Walker and Daniel Gilbert made easy baskets, regaining the lead for UB.
Ball State quickly responded as they did all game long, with a Chris Williams layup to take a 30-29 lead. The teams continued to trade baskets in the early going as neither team could take a firm grasp of the contest.
The Cardinals created a little breathing room for themselves at the 16:06 mark as Kevin Cates got an offensive rebound off a Cameron Echols miss and put up a layup to extend their lead to six. That was one of Ball State's crushing 16 offensive rebounds on the evening.
Buffalo fought hard to keep the game close and was largely successful on most occasions, but a few defensive lapses prevented the Bulls from scoring an upset.
Buffalo had picked up the offensive pace, which was lacking in the first half, but they forgot how to play the good team defense that kept them in the game in the first 20 minutes. UB shot an astounding 63 percent for the second half including four 3-pointers. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Ball State was even better, connecting on 20-30 shots for an uncanny 68 percent.
"In the second half we were just too cautious on defense. In the first half I thought we did a pretty good job, and in the second half we got real tentative and you can't do that against this caliber of a team," said Witherspoon.
The Bulls came within four points on two occasions during the game's final minutes but could never hold the Cardinals off the scoreboard long enough to make a run. Often the teams traded baskets, as evidenced by a series of four straight 3-pointers, two for each side, with four minutes to play.
Echols led all scorers and scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half. Williams, who came in as the MAC's leading scorer and was mainly guarded one-on-one by Gilbert, backed him up with 20 points despite shooting just 5-16 from the field. Williams got most of his points from the charity stripe, going 10-12 on free throws. Robert Owens was also in double figures for BSU with 19 points.
Buffalo was led by three players in double figures, including Gilbert with a team-high 14 points, 12 coming in the second half. Mario Jordan registered a career-high with 12 points, going 3-4 from behind the arc.
"Buffalo is on the right track, and I think they have the right kind of players you need to compete in the Mid-American Conference," said Ball State head coach Tim Buckley. "There is no question in my mind that they missed (Battle) tonight."
The Bulls travel to Kent State on Tuesday to battle with the Golden Flashes, who are undefeated at home this season. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. (WWKB-AM 1520). KSU reached the "Elite Eight" of the NCAA Tournament last season.