Lewis puts team on his back

Joel Hammond and Joel Hammond

MUNCIE, Ind. — Toledo’s Sammy Villegas was named the Mid-American Conference’s freshman of the year yesterday in a vote of the conference’s coaches.

Tim Buckley’s vote remains unknown, but after the last 12 days, chances are the Ball State head coach’s opinion is a strong one.

BG freshman Ron Lewis, who scored a career-high 29 points here on Feb. 26 in a 21-point Falcon loss, and set Worthen Arena records for free throws attempted by an opponent in the process, scored 28 more last night and set more records en route to the Falcons’ 90-81 victory in the opening round of the MAC tournament.

Lewis scored 19 of his 28 in the second half, shooting 15-17 from the free throw line in the second stanza, when BG held onto their 17-point halftime lead, eliminating Ball State from the tournament for the second straight year. The officiating was much tighter in that second half, and Lewis took full advantage.

He was 22-25 from the line in the game, re-setting his Worthen Arena record for attempts and setting the arena record for made free throws. He also set MAC tournament records for free throws attempted and made, and set a school record for free throws attempted. That latter record was held by Howard Komives, who made 21 against Marshall in 1964. “The way the game was being called, it’s just a matter of adapting and learning what the referees were going to cal land what they weren’t,” Cory Ryan, BG’s lone senior, said. “So we put the ball in Ron’s hands, and he’s either going to get an easy layup or foul shots, and obviously he does both very well.”

With Ball State clawing their way back into the game late in the second half, Lewis took the Falcons on his back and created scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates by getting past his defenders. Over a five-minute period in the second half, Lewis scored nine of BG’s 13 points, helping stave off a furious Ball State rally from as many as 20 down in the second half. He scored 15 of BG’s final 30 points.

“It’s just a matter of us getting motivated and getting into a rhythm,” Lewis said. “The second half took forever, but we just had to stay focused and stay on the right path.”

BG coach Dan Dakich said he was proud of Lewis and all of his team’s concentration through a very difficult game.

“Ron realized the game was being called a certain way, and took full advantage of it,” Dakich said. “He played great again, and all of our guys helped decide this game by heart and leadership. It’s amazing that they put themselves in a position to win with everything they’ve been through since last April.”

Lewis was named to the MAC All-Freshman team, along with Villegas, Kent’s DeAndre Haynes, Miami’s Josh Hausfeld and Todd Peterson of Northern Illinois.