Ball State Defeats Miami to Win the Men's MAC Championship, 61-58

Updated 3/8/2000
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    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 seed.

    Tournament MVP Duane Clemens scored 14 points and Theron Smith had 12 points and eight rebounds for the Cardinals, who will be making their seventh 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 NCAAs.

    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 Miami.

    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 3:22 remaining.

    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 remaining.

    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.