A Look Back on Ball State’s Memorable 2001 Maui Invitational

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of Villanova‘s consecutive upset wins over No. 5 Syracuse and No. 3 LouisvilleI wanted to take a look back at the last team to take down two top-5 teams in one week–the 2001-02 Ball State Cardinals.

For Ball State University, losing in the 2001 Maui Invitational title game was pretty special.

Ball State was one of two teams (Houston) not to have been to the postseason the year prior. Two years removed from a 65-57 loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to UCLA, the Cardinals were revved up at the possibility for some revenge.

First, they had to get past the No. 4 Kansas Jayhawksled by Nick Collison, Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich. Challenge accepted. For Ball State, they had nothing to lose–they were playing with house money. They got a trip to Hawaii and got to face some of the powerhouse programs on national television. For Kansas, it was easy to overlook the Cardinals–until the final horn. Ball State 93, Kansas 91. A monumental upset to begin the college basketball season.

Next up was the No. 3 UCLA Bruins, a team that was talented but certainly beatable. Jason Kapono, Matt Barnes and Dan Gadzuric were the marquee names on that squad. Ball State didn’t care who was on the floor that night, as they ran UCLA right out of the Lahaina Civic Center, 91-73.

Ball State was the David that slayed Goliath–two night in a row.

Next on tap was the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils. Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon, Jason Williams and the under-appreciated Dahntay Jones. The Cardinals’ luck ran out and they dropped the title game to Duke, 83-71. The loss dropped the upstart Cardinals back to Earth but what a story it was, even if for only two nights.

Of the previously mentioned players from the Kansas, UCLA and Duke, only Jason Kapono is no longer playing in the NBA.

What about the the players on Ball State? They were led by Theron Smith who averaged 19.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in 2001-02. His supporting cast included Patrick Jackson (16.6 ppg, 3.5 apg), Chris Williams (15.9 ppg) and Lonnie Jones. Yeah, exactly–who? Only Smith went on to play professionally in the NBA–for all of 53 games–and for his career averaged 2.3 points and three rebounds per game.

Ball State went on to crack the top-25 the following week, moving all the way up to No. 16 in the country. They stayed in the polls for four week until losses to Butler and Oklahoma State knocked them out for good.

The Cardinals went on to the quarterfinals of the 2002 NIT before losing to South Carolina, 82-47. The blowout loss that ended their season is not what they’ll remember in Muncie but rather the first two huge wins.

Kansas went on to the Final Four that season before bowing out to the eventual National Champion Maryland Terrapins.

UCLA took a trip to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to 12th-seeded Missouri.

Duke also exited in the Sweet Sixteen to national runner-up Indiana.

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