Highlight: Ball State celebrates its tournament victory (685K)(realplayer)
CLEVELAND (AP) (Mar. 8) -- Lonnie Jones blocked seven shots and Ball
State earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a 61-58
victory over Miami Universty in the championship of the Mid-American
Conference tournament on March 8.
The Cardinals (22-8), the tourney's No. 2 seed, made their free throws
down the stretch to hold off the surprising RedHawks (15-15), the No. 9
Tournament MVP Duane Clemens scored 14 points and Theron Smith had 12
points and eight rebounds for the Cardinals, who will be making their
NCAA tournament appearance and first since 1995 next week.
The key for Ball State was the 6-foot-11 Jones, who dominated inside in
the second half, blocking six shots and altering several more.
Jason Stewart scored 25 points and Rob Mestas had 11 for Miami, which
scored only two field goals in the final 4:27 and shot just 31 percent
from the floor.
Ball State's season began to take a nosedive shortly after a 20-point
victory over Purdue, and the Cardinals began the MAC regular season 3-6.
But with Clemens,
a senior guard, leading the way, Ball State won 11 of its last 12 and
its seventh MAC tourney title.
Clemens, who scored a career-high 35 in a semifinal victory over Ohio
University, cried and hugged his grandmother, Virginia Cox, after
earning his first trip to the
Defense ruled in the second half as neither team could get an open look
at the basket. Both teams went 5:16 without scoring a field goal. Before
Mestas made a
layup with 22 seconds left, Stewart was the only player to score for
Ray Jackson's 3-pointer gave the Cardinals a 51-46 lead, but Ball State
went the next 8:08 without scoring before Jones hit a short hook to make
it 53-52 with
Stewart, who made a MAC-record 10 3-pointers in the semifinals against
Marshall, missed on Miami's next possession and Smith hit a tough leaner
to put the
Cardinals up 55-54.
Stewart made two free throws with 2:09 left but Smith scored the game's
biggest basket, getting fouled on a layup. His free threw put the
Cardinals up 57-54 and,
after Stewart forced a 3-pointer that missed, Patrick Jackson hit two
free throws as Ball State opened a 59-54 lead with 27.3 seconds left.
Mestas's layup closed it to three, but Smith made two more free throws
with 20.9 second left.
Ball State opened the second half with an 11-2 run to take a 44-38
lead. After Mickey Hosier's 3-pointer from the right wing, Clemens split
three Miami defenders
for a layup and then made a steal and layup as the Cardinals looked
like they might pull away.
Stewart answered for Miami, scoring on a drive and getting six points
in an 8-2 run that pulled the RedHawks within 46-44 with 12:26
Stewart, who made his final seven 3-pointers in the semifinal victory
over Marshall, missed his first long-range attempt. He made his next
one, and then hit two on
consecutive trips late in the first half as Miami overcame a six-point
deficit to tie it 31-all.
Mestas' driving layup with 3.3 seconds remaining gave the RedHawks a
34-33 lead at the half.