Everyone knew the Cardinals were going to win Saturday, but most thought it would be the ones from Louisville.
But the Cardinals of Ball State, playing with a poise and single-mindedness that eluded 16th-ranked Louisville, took a 16-point lead in 13 minutes, led by 13 at halftime and held off a furious rally for a 62-60 second-round West Regional victory the Huntsman Center that puts them in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
"We came in here in the frame of mind to win, not just to be here," Ball State Coach Dick Hunsaker said. "We have tremendous respect for Louisville, but we came in to compete. We weren't intimidated or in awe of those tremendous Louisville athletes or the tradition of the program. Their Cardinals are not any different from our Cardinals. The heart inside the jersey, not the name on the jersey, is what you win with."
The team that won its first-round game against Oregon State on Paris McCurdy's free throw with no time left on the clock won its second-round game when a three-point attempt by Louisville's Everick Sullivan bounded off the rim as time ran out.
Ball State (26-6), seeded 12th in the West, was bolstered by the defense of Curtis Kidd, 6 feet 9 and 235 pounds. Kidd pushed and leaned on Felton Spencer, Louisville's 7-foot, 265-pound center, trying to keep the player Hunsaker called "an aircraft carrier and a mountain" at bay.
It was Kidd's defense that helped force Spencer away from the basket on one of Louisville's last efforts, when Spencer took a pass about 10 feet from the basket and tried a turnaround bank shot that missed badly with 11 seconds left. Ball State's Chandler Thompson, a 6-3 sophomore forward, pulled in the rebound, but missed the front-end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with seven seconds left, giving Louisville a final chance.
After scoring 24 points in the first-round victory, Thompson said he entered the second game nervous. At halftime, he had only four of Ball State's points in a 36-23 lead.
But he scored 11 in the second half, including three on a sequence that helped stave off Louisville's comeback. Ball State was clinging to a 49-43 lead after Louiville went on a 14-0 run, once cutting the lead to two points.
Thompson, guarding Jerome Harmon, leaped to stifle a shot, and broke downcourt with the ball. LaBradford Smith chased Thompson, went up to the basket with him, and fouled him on a dunk. Thompson made the free throw, pushing Ball State's lead back to nine points with 7:23 remaining.
Billy Butts, held to seven points in the first-round game, tied Thompson with 15 points, including three three-pointers--one of which came after Louisville cut the lead to three.
Ball State won by packing its defense inside and challenging Louisville to shoot from outside. Louisville responded by making three of 16 shots from three-point range. Spencer, meanwhile, took only eight shots and finished with 14 points.