The exciting game worthy of post-season college basketball saw the lead change 20 times, and the point differential was never above six until there were only 16 seconds left on the clock.
LSU led by one, 63-62, with 4:50 to play but was outscored 13-2 in the final minutes of the contest. The Tigers did not make a field goal in the final seven minutes of play. The game was put on ice when Patrick Jackson drained a three-pointer in front of the Cardinal bench at the 27-second mark to give Ball State a 71-65 lead. The Cardinals tacked on four more points off of free throws to end the game.
Ball State used a barrage of three-pointers, hitting 14 of 26 shots (53.8 percent) from beyond the arc, but was only 11-for-31 elsewhere from the field. Chris Williams led all scorers with 25 points, while Theron Smith and Jackson added 19.
"We knew what we needed to do," LSU head coach John Brady said. "Guard Smith — which we didn't do a great job of, and guard (Ball State) from the three-point line — which we didn't do a very good job of. And in spite of having some opportunities to win the game, the things that we wanted to do we weren't able to do."
Seniors Jermaine Williams, Jason Wilson and Pete Bozek played their final games as Tigers, and an emotional Williams — who left the game with five seconds to play – was embraced by the LSU bench and was given a rousing ovation by the 12,696 fans in attendance.
"Jermaine Williams is one of the finest young people you'll ever meet," said Brady. "He's motivated by his parents, he's driven by his faith, and he's been a pleasure to coach. If I can coach guys like that in my career, it'll be a good ride for me."
"The fans helped us out a lot," said Jermaine Williams. "They helped us get back into the game. We just fought for them. They wanted to come out and see a show, and hopefully we gave them a show, something that will last."
Junior guard Torris Bright led LSU by scoring a career-high 25 points on 7-of-15 shooting, while Ronald Dupree was the only other Tiger in double figures with 16 points.
The Tigers shot 23 of 56 field goals (41.1 percent) but were only 4-for-17 (23.5 percent) from three-point range. Brad Bridgewater scored eight points and Antonio Hudson added seven.
"They were well-prepared coming in," Dupree said of the Cardinals. "They knew about half our offensive plays. They're just a well-coached team. I think they'll go far in this tournament."
Back-to-back threes by Bright gave LSU what would be its biggest lead of the game, 59-54, before BSU answered with a three-point play and a short jumper to tie the game at 59-59 with 7:17 to play.
The Tigers' final field goal of the night came at the seven-minute mark when Williams fed Dupree an alley-oop dunk to make the score 61-59, LSU.
LSU managed just four points from there on out on free throws by Bright and Williams, and BSU sank its final three—pointers - including Jackson's back-breaker — and made seven free throws to complete the scoring.
"It was a tight game the whole time," Jackson said. "It came down to making shots at the end. It was a shame someone had to lose this game."
"I'm proud of our team," Brady said. "I'm proud of our team for what it's gone through, been through, and for the way they've played a good quality of basketball, particularly the last half of the year."
The Tigers finish the season with a 19-15 record. Ball State (23-11), the champion of the Mid-American Conference's West Division, advances to the quarterfinal round of the NIT and will face the winner of UNLV and South Carolina.
"This is a big win, especially in this arena," Chris Williams said. "I don't think we've played in an arena this loud except for IU (Indiana)."